Thursday, August 30, 2007

Stardust (2007)

Now this was a pleasant surprise after a fairly cruddy marketing campaign, which sold it as a much more cutesy and less clever movie than it turned out to be. It doesn't help that the first ten minutes are annoying in a cloying, sub-Harry Potter kind of way, and pointless too, telling the story of the hero's father, who's only important as regards a third act plot twist. It isn't until the prologue is over with and we find ourselves in the chambers of a dying king played by Peter O'Toole, who cackles at the sight of his sons murdering each other to succeed to the throne, that the movie really emerges as something witty and charming.

This isn't to say that the movie is flawless from that point - director Matthew Vaughn gives us all the obligatory images and jokes, to the point that the movie has a generic quality, especially in the character of the lead, a bland British guy named Charlie Cox. There's also a subplot involving Robert DeNiro as a closeted, cross-dressing sky pirate. His scenes flop because of (a) the annoying trendiness of the whole concept, and (b) because I couldn't buy DeNiro in the part - he's basically mugging. But Neil Gaiman's basic story ties it all together, and Claire Danes is charming as the fallen 'star'. It's no The Princess Bride but it's close - and a hell of a lot better than The Chronicles of Narnia.

Oh, and Ricky Gervais is in it, which is always a good thing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Thing (1982) & Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Yet another double feature at the New Beverly. I'm intent on seeing The Invasion even though it's sure to be mediocre at best, so I've been wanting to revisit the old versions, plus I had never seen either of these movies on a big screen, which is really the only way to see a John Carpenter movie.

I love The Thing. It might just be my favorite horror movie out of the entire decade of the 1980s. I remember seeing it as a kid and being thrilled by its mixture of suspense, gory special effects, and tough-guy humor. Nowadays I also appreciate Carpenter's graceful widescreen compositions, the strong ensemble performances, and just how freakin' surreal it all is. The movie isn't meant to be picked apart in terms of logic, but rather experienced as a string of nightmare sequences where anything can happen, anyone can turn out to be a Thing at any time, and any kind of weird monstrous Lovecraftian crap can explode at any moment.

After that, the Philip Kaufman version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It's a good movie, but I don't find that it adds much to the original version beyond a greater degree of urban paranoia and post-'60s looseness in the story and performances. Kaufman isn't nearly as good as Siegel was at action and suspense sequences, but he does tap into a vein of post-Watergate insecurity, especially in a montage where Donald Sutherland tries to alert the powers that be about the alien invasion, only to get the runaround through a series of frustrating phone conversations. The sequences of San Francisco in the movie's epilogue also remind me of what Antonioni would have done if he gave a crap about science fiction.
Also, this movie has Veronica Cartwright in it, who I always like to see. As far as scenes of freaking out and going hysterical go, she's one of the absolute best.

Apologies to anyone who hasn't seen the above still before. I first saw this movie as a kid somewhere between 5 and 10 and that image and its accompanying sound effect is the best thing in the whole movie, a coupling not found in the original '50s version.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Quote of the day

A friend sent this to me, so why not spread the joy from the funniest movie of last year?
"There is something I want to get off my chest. It's about that summer, when you went away to community college. I got an offer to do Playgirl Magazine, and I did it. I did a full spread for Playgirl Magazine. I mean spread man, I pulled my butt apart and stuff. I was totally nude. it was weird, I... I mean you probably didn't hear about it because I went under the name of Mike Honcho. But I just wanted you to know that. If you can hear me, if it got into your brain somehow. That I spread my buttcheeks as Mike Honcho."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) & Fiend Without a Face (1958)

Another double feature, this time at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theater. It's been several years since I last watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so this time I was interested to notice how straightforward and unaffected the movie really is - aside from the bookending scenes the narrative is clean and direct. Don Siegel was never a strongly expressive director with the camera, and only rarely resorts to odd camera angles or cinematographic tricks to create 'scary' moods, so that the movie's power truly derives from the careful rise of narrative tension and strong, direct performances. For example, this is just about the movie's creepiest shot: That's the town of Santa Mira, entirely made of pod people, coming together for a meeting, but it's only creepy because of the uncanniness inherent in the story at that moment. Another reason for this movie's success has to do with how realistic it all feels, with the vast bulk of the film apparently shot on location, or at least on sets that are better designed than most sci-fi movies from this period. It really feels like we're watching small-town people in a real small town.

Interpretations of this movie's subtext usually revert to fears of either Communism or 1950s American conformity, depending on the ideology of the critic. But the film wouldn't have the longevity it's had if it was just a simple contemporary allegory along those lines. Instead to me, it feels more like the fears this movie raises are about 20th century modernity in general, the loss of 'small-town' values to crushing, anonymous, emotionless ways of life that included both Communism and American conformism alike, which turn neighbor against neighbor, lover against lover in the blink of an eye.

People have also complained about the bookend scenes, added to blunt the impact of the original ending of the movie with Kevin McCarthy screaming into the camera 'You're next!' While it's true that the new ending prevents the movie from ending on a note of shrieking, hysterical horror, it's not a completely happy ending. The film closes on a shot of McCarthy's exhausted, devastated face, aware that everyone that he ever knew or loved is gone forever. It's a consolation for him to know that he's no longer considered to be a madman, but a small consolation nonetheless.

After that, Fiend Without a Face. There were a whole bunch of sci-fi movies in the 1950s and '60s made in Britain with an American in the lead so as to appeal to both markets, and this is one of them, set in rural Canada next to an American Air Force Base where a bunch of locals are being mysteriously killed. After a while we find out that the titular fiends are actually monsters created by a well-meaning scientist as part of his experiments in telekinesis, to 'materialize thoughts'. As so often happens in these movies, instead of helping humanity the experiments create crawling beasties who suck peoples' brains out of their skulls.
It's kind of a generic movie without the layers of emotion or artistry of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it's fun enough to watch stop-motion rubber brains crawl around and try to attack people, if you're into that kind of thing. What subtext the movie does have has to do with the fears of atomic power (risky in the hands of ambitious, if well-meaning scientists) and the resentment felt by locals over American military bases (also well-meaning but misunderstood by stubborn and superstitious locals).

One moment that I especially liked in this movie involves a local who goes out hunting for the mysterious killer (he thinks it's an American soldier gone nuts) who wanders back after being attacked but not killed. A city council meeting is happening to discuss these events when suddenly a curious moaning is heard - it rises until the victim walks in, gibbering and clearly lobotomized by the monsters. The audience at the Egyptian had to laugh at this, which is too bad, because to me it felt downright terrifying and emotionally violent. There's also a long expository scene where the kindly scientist is explaining his experiments in his secret lab, which even his secretary didn't know existed. He responds ominously, "If you knew what I was working on in there, you would never have returned to this house." Then, without missing a beat, in his most grandfatherly tone, "I'll show it to you later." Now that is funny.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rolling Thunder (1977) & Taxi Driver (1976)

This was a double feature at the New Beverly, two films written by Paul Schrader. Taxi Driver is one of my all-time favorite films. Rolling Thunder, which I had never seen before, feels less developed thematically in its attitude towards violence and guys going crazy, but that might also be the result of rewrites by one Heywood Gould. It's also one of Quentin Tarantino's favorites and curiously not available on DVD.

Like the more well-known Taxi Driver, Rolling Thunder is the story of a damaged Vietnam veteran who returns to this country and winds up lashing out in an orgy of destruction. The main difference in the movies is in the nature of their protagonists and the missions they put themselves on - justified revenge in the case of one movie, lunatic self-aggrandizement in the case of the other.

Major Charlie Rane (William Devane) is a former POW returning home to San Antonio after seven years of torture and deprivation in North Vietnam. Even though there are rallies in his honor, it's clear from his reserve that he's just going through the motions for the sake of politeness; the ceremonies marking his return are less for Rane's benefit than they are to ease the consciences of the people who stayed at home, to heal the wounds of Vietnam. But for Rane, the trauma of the war is only compounded by his family - his son doesn't remember him and his wife is in love with a local deputy, Cliff. Cliff tries to reach out to Charlie in an uncomfortable scene where he offers him a glass of whiskey - Charlie accepts it and toasts, but unobtrusively sets it down without drinking it and goes back to his can of beer. The dialogue that follows, as Cliff tells Charlie, "I don't want to think about what you went through" sums things up nicely - everyone in Charlie's life has gone on with their lives, and they'd prefer for Charlie to do the same with a minimum of fuss. This isn't their fault, as nobody really has any idea what it was like for Charlie in captivity - but nobody's too eager to figure out what's ticking behind that 200-yard stare, either.

What has been a tense domestic drama up to this point shifts gears at the half hour mark when a gang of thugs breaks into Charlie's house looking for a box of silver dollars given him as a homecoming gift. Reverting to POW mode, Charlie stubbornly refuses to capitulate to the thugs - his meaningless stubbornness (and by extension, the persistence of America's involvement in the war in general) are nicely summed up by a piece of dialogue from the bad guy played by James Best: "He's one macho motherfucker!" (I might be misquoting but that's the gist.) Things escalate until Charlie's wife and son are murdered and Charlie's in the hospital with a hook where his right hand used to be (note: the sound design in the hand-maiming sequence could have used some more imagination).

The rest of the movie has Charlie methodically tracking down the gang, dragging along a cocktail waitress who's developed a crush on him. She tries to reach out to him, to start a new life, but Charlie's mind is made up. For him, vengeance is practically something for him to jump at, a return to a way of life that he's more equipped for now than mere domesticity. There are strong links to Bob Clark's Deathdream (1974), which takes a more metaphorical route, turning its young veteran into a literal undead zombie creature who needs fresh blood in order to stay alive - Deathdream literalizes what Rolling Thunder only alludes to in dialogue and performance, that the war has turned Charlie into the walking dead, living only to kill, if he can get the chance.

Rolling Thunder ends with Charlie meeting up with a POW buddy (played by a young Tommy Lee Jones) and the two gearing up in their military uniforms for One Last Mission, killing bad guys in a Mexican whorehouse. As exciting as this is, it's also pretty simplistic. What makes Taxi Driver a superior work of art (among other things) is that the orgy of violence at its climax is a scene of horror, of mental illness brought to its inevitable conclusion. The excitement of the violence is coupled with revulsion of its ugliness and Travis Bickle's patheticness; in Rolling Thunder, it's just a kick-ass action sequence, with no thought given for the repercussions. By rolling credits on William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones exiting the whorehouse triumphantly, the movie performs an act of denial (not wanting to think about what their lives might be from this point on) similar to Cliff preferring to not have to think about what Charlie Rane had to endure after he got shot down. Oh well.
As for Taxi Driver, every time I watch this movie it dazzles me. My favorite sequences are the scenes of Travis Bickle talking to himself in his tiny apartment, pushing his television over with one foot until it reaches the tipping point and smashes on the floor, and the mental devastation that follows - how is he going to distract himself from those voices in his head now?

Watching it this time, I was more aware of the subplot involving Travis's racism - the fearsome black faces he stares at and the black kid holding up a grocery store that he murders. It's a pretty big event that the movie seems to forget about five minutes after it's happened, moving forward to different plot areas. It strikes me as something of a miscalculation to bring in something so heavy and then abandon it as a thread for the rest of the movie, and it seems to be Jonathan Rosenbaum's primary reason for labelling the movie 'racist', which I can't really agree with. Travis is racist, yes, but the movie doesn't endorse his racism, which is clearly borne of ignorance and fear. Such are the critical buttons which Rosenbaum allows to be so easily pressed. Also, this movie wins an award from me for being one of the filthiest movies ever made - usually Hollywood movies look clean because they're filmed on constructed sets; or if shot on location, in places that have been cleaned and dressed up by set decoraters. The cheap rooms and streets in this movie - especially the hotel site for the final bloodbath - look like they haven't seen a mop in decades.

I kind of wish Schrader had pulled the same trick in Rolling Thunder that he had in Taxi Driver; Travis, fixated on Cybill Shepherd's Betsy, intends to kill her idol, a vacuous Presidential candidate. Foiled and chased away by the Secret Service, Travis immediately transfers his energies to an easier, lesser target, Harvey Keitel's pimp character. I'm imagining a version of Rolling Thunder where Charlie Rane tracks down a bunch of low-lifes to a Mexican whorehouse and kills them, but not the actual murderers he's looking for - those could be tracked down by his less-bloodthirsty, less-damaged rival Cliff. Something to think about.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Open letter to some dude

If you're going to make an anonymous phone call to me at 1 am to say 'Fuck you' it doesn't really help anybody, because I have no idea who you are or what I might have done to offend you. Better luck next time.

(Added 8/25/07): if the person who called is who I think it is: IMDB is very slow with adding credits onto new pages. Yours will be listed eventually, jackass.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

As much as I enjoyed this, it's also a tiny bit of a letdown because this movie is, basically, exactly the same movie as The Bourne Supremacy - which I loved.

Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity was a pretty simple and straightforward action-adventure with an emphasis on realistic stunts, but it was also kind of pedestrian. Liman's inability to make a movie without someone stepping in to clean up his messes meant that the sequel went to a new director. Paul Greengrass brought a vastly more interesting sense of kineticism to Supremacy, and a greater degree of moral probing and clarity; Jason Bourne wasn't just a former spy on a sexy tour of Europe, he was an anguished loner on a journey of discovery to find out who he really was and what sins he may have committed. Greengrass made Supremacy an action movie with a soul.

And now...ditto. You could pretty much use the same screenplay for both movies, just swapping out Brian Cox for Albert Finney and ending on the same note of 'exposing-the-bad-guys' and drifting into the ether. So that as much as I enjoyed the bonecrunching fight scenes and the spectacular car chases, I had the nagging thought in my head that I had seen it all before, storywise. Also I felt that the emotional impact was stronger in Supremacy, ending on that scene between Bourne and his young Russian victim, simple but direct.

So let me reverse myself one more time and add that this is clearly the best action movie of the year, thus far, and that I'm in a certain amount of awe of Greengrass's ability to stage his complex action sequences and shoot and edit them for maximum impact. People complain about Greengrass's hyperkinetic shooting style and rapid-fire editing, comparing him to Michael Bay, but the difference between these two is so big it's not even funny. Where Bay is bludgeoning and crude, Greengrass is precise and dazzling. I can tell where characters are in relation to each other in a Greengrass movie, and every tiny shot contains information; his movies take place in a finely detailed, realistic world, which I can't say about Transformers or any other Bay movie.

So: I can't wait to see what Greengrass does with Imperial Life in the Emerald City, where he'll be working with material that probably excites him more than doing another studio spy movie.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Holy crap, I've been reviewed.

Well not me, but my USC film Sleep in Heavenly Peace. The review is here.

Thanks to whoever this is and whoever got the film to them!

The True West Cinema Festival

I've been recovering from this and trying to take care of all the stuff that needed to get done while I was out of town, but I absolutely need to take mention of how much fun this was. The True West Festival in Boise, Idaho, is fairly small (10 features and two shorts programs) but it's intimate and cozy and the organizers really took care of those of us who could attend as filmmakers.

I missed several of the films, but there were definitely highlights. Four Sheets to the Wind, a drama from director Sterlin Harjo, is set in Oklahoma amidst the Native American population. It's an intimate character drama, refreshingly taking a look at the issues of Natives and rural dwellers alike. The technical aspects are a little shaky at times and the story has one suicide attempt too many, but it's heartfelt and very well-acted, especially by lead actor Cody Lightning.

Tijuana Makes Me Happy is kind of an odd film, blurring the lines between fiction and documentary as it follows the lives of a Mexican kid and his friends and family south of the border living their everyday lives, hanging out at cockfights, selling empanadas door to door, freely crossing the border back and forth with a work visa. It, too lacks technical panache but it's so nice to see such a realistic slice of life that it didn't matter.

I had never seen the 1971 classic Vanishing Point before, but it was interesting to see especially in the wake of Antonioni's death, as an elliptical blending of post-1960s despair and grindhouse action - it's great to see existential ennui in the same movie as a naked girl on a motorcycle offering uppers to the protagonist. As the virtually anonymous antihero Kowalski, Barry Newman has little to do except look pissed off for most of the movie, but he does it very well.

Finally the best short of the weekend was from a fellow USC student who was also making his festival debut, Jacob Hatley's China. This is a finely nuanced character piece about an aging cowboy in modern North Carolina feeling the passage of the age as he tracks down a rogue bull for his employer, and it's equal parts Hal Needham and Howard Hawks, shot in gorgeous anamorphic black and white.

On top of all that was the city of Boise, which was very friendly and open to a wide variety of films, not too surprising as the local hub of what appears to be the beginnings of a boom in digital indie filmmaking. Very cool to see, and I hope to visit again sometime. Thanks again to the organizers for all their work and for inviting me!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Festival Update

My USC thesis film Sleep in Heavenly Peace will be screening at three festivals in the next month:

This weekend at the True West Cinema Festival in Boise, Idaho - technically this is the film's World Premiere. The film will be screening at 4:45 pm on Sunday, August 12 at The Flicks, 646 Fulton St., Boise.

Next, at the L.A. Shorts Fest, on Thursday, Sept. 6 at 3:15 pm, at the AMC Burbank 6, 770 N. 1st St., Burbank.

After that, at the Estes Park Film Festival on Sunday, Sept. 16 at 12pm, at the Park Theatre, 130 Moraine Ave., Estes Park, Colorado.

If you can make it to any of these (especially to any Los Angeles people out there) I promise you the funniest Christmas-themed farm accident movie you've ever seen.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Cries and Whispers (1972)

Along with Fanny & Alexander, I think this is the towering work of Bergman's career (at least of the relatively small number of films that I've seen). Bergman's trademark intellectualized questions about religion and mortality are dramatized and visualized into an artwork of pure emotion, with great simplicity and complexity, harshness and grace. It's one of the finest films ever made about how we react to illness and death. Bergman uses Christian iconography and concepts about sin and redemption, yet the film can just as easily be interpreted to take place in an atheistic universe where meaning can only come from human love and devotion. This is, of course, my interpretation, that Agnes's relief from her suffering (such as it is) comes only from the love and care of Anna, and not from any promises of organized religion. When the pastor says "Her faith was greater than mine" I think he is simply offering his own rationalization for her grace under pressure in the face of an intolerable vacuum of doubt and fear.

What I find most aesthetically satisfying about the film, in addition to its impeccable craft in terms of acting, cinematography, production design, and sound design, is its unflinching perspective, Bergman's ability to look unblinkingly at human misery at its most dismal and unpleasant. While the notion that some things are better left to discretion and the imagination of the audience is often valid, I also believe that often there are subjects that demand full visualization. Agnes' death is one of those cinematic moments that is literally hard to watch, yet Bergman's camera takes it all in, performing its own act of cinematic devotion.

I've noticed that my writing seems to get a little more formalized when writing about these Bergman films. Their subject matters seem to demand it.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007)

I mourn the movie that could have been if this had been made by Alexander Payne, who co-wrote a version of it with his partner Jim Taylor - it could have been a modern-day satirical masterpiece worthy of Billy Wilder. Instead, we have something fairly blockheaded and dopey.

Yet, like most of Sandler's movies, there's a core here of decency, and in its own clumsy way the movie ends up being progressive, in spite of numerous compromises. It's a temporary transvestite movie like Tootsie, and as such gives the audience an entry point into an identity they'd otherwise never experience, so that the scenes where Adam Sandler and Kevin James experience discrimination and homophobia and fight back give the movie a kick of relevance.

Unfortunately, Sandler needs to overcompensate in making his character aggressively heterosexual, by hitting on every female in the movie and ordering an absurd amount of pornography in the mail to his new address at Larry's house. Also, Jessica Biel should be embarrassed by her role in this. Talk about being complicit in your own exploitation, Biel's role in this movie is to deliver exposition and have tits. It's about five times more demeaning and exploitative than Elisha Cuthbert's role in Captivity, where she at least got to play an actual human character.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Virgin Spring (1960) & Wild Strawberries (1957)

I saw this double feature last night at the still-open New Beverly, where cinephiles and homeless dudes rub shoulders on some of the most uncomfortable seats in Hollywood. It was fun, and both movies gained a lot for me by seeing them on a big screen with an audience.

First, Wild Strawberries, which more than anything else feels like Bergman's response to Dickens (A Christmas Carol) and Capra (It's a Wonderful Life) in illustrating the scope of a man's life through flashbacks. Unlike Scrooge or George Bailey, though, Isak Borg begins the movie as something of a blank slate, both to us and, apparently, to himself - we understand that he's a cranky old man, but he's not an obvious monster like Scrooge, and Bergman allows us to discover gradually what kind of life Borg has led; emotionally closed-off, priggish as a youth, a failure as a husband and as a father, but successful in his work as a doctor. What's especially interesting is that Bergman never places Young Isak in Old Isak's flashbacks; the dissolution of his relationships are things that take place beyond the scope of his direct activity, actions taken by others in Isak's life; Bergman's point is that Isak's sins are of omission, not commission. In A Christmas Carol, we actually see the scene of Young Scrooge choosing his work over his fiancee; in Bergman, we only see the effects of the slow dissolution of his relationships. The effect is to maintain our sympathy for Borg, but at the same time to reinforce the insidiousness of his character flaws.

If the movie has a 'bad guy' it would have to be Borg's son Evald, who is portrayed as stern, arrogant, uncaring of the feelings of those around him and generally nihilistic; Evald is the Monster to Borg's Frankenstein, and it's not clear what hope he will have in the future to move forwards, beyond the same kind of late-in-life redemption that Isak seems to receive.

If this all sounds rather roundabout, it's because the movie seems to me to orbit around its themes rather than addressing them head-on, which is probably why it's taken me three viewings to really get a handle on what seems like a fairly simple film at first glance.

Now, The Virgin Spring: My friend Matt Dessem has written that if Bergman had wanted to, he could have been one of the greatest horror directors of all time, and in certain ways he was anyway, with this movie as a prime example. And, as we all know, it inspired Wes Craven's Last House on the Left. But even though Craven's is a low-budget, gritty grindhouse horror movie and Bergman's is a finely-crafted art film with strong, subtle performances, the two movies still have a lot in common and bizarrely, I find Bergman's movie the more problematic of the two.

When I say 'problematic', I mean that I find this movie frustrating in several ways. As a narrative, it's absorbing; as a movie, it's extremely well-crafted, especially in terms of rendering what everyday life was probably like in the 14th century, and in terms of Sven Nykvist's gorgeous cinematography; however, as a statement, as something with a rhetorical argument about revenge, or faith, or the existence of God, it falls short for me. Last House on the Left is a crude movie, but it has a straight-forward, simple yet powerful statement on the nature of violence and revenge in 1970s America, by graphically illustrating the ugliness inherent in both the initiating violence (the rapes and murders of two girls) and in the revenge taken afterwards (the parents of one girl murdering the gang of rapists in cold blood). In comparison, while Bergman's movie has an equally appalling scene of rape and murder, it does not offer the same kind of reflection on the act of revenge; the murderers are a band of thugs whose psychology is not probed, and Max Von Sydow's need for revenge is taken for granted. He's clearly in anguish, and what he does is fascinating to watch, but there's not much sense of reflection in what he does. Bergman shows us the man preparing to kill the men, and then doing it, but that's all. As horrible as it all is, it feels relatively flat and undynamic to me, lacking in some greater moral or ethical dynamic, which Last House, despite its crudeness possessed.

After killing the men, Von Sydow and his peasant entourage find the body of the dead maiden and, after praying to God for forgiveness for his vengeance, they lift the corpse up from the ground and a miracle happens - the titular geyser begins to burble from the ground, and uplifting music swells from the soundtrack. I don't like this ending. To me it suggests a simplistic affirmation after all the horrors that have occurred up to this point - all's well that ends with a miracle. I would propose a darker interpretation, which is that God is signaling His existence to these believers and, by extension, His conscious will of all the violence that has taken place. But this ending doesn't match the happy music Bergman layers over the scene. So ultimately, it feels phony to me. Like I say, it's still a good movie - but it should have been a great movie, and it's not.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

The opening credits make it clear: this is 'A romantic comedy by Ingmar Bergman', with all that implies: it's a sunny farce with a third act on a country estate where the bourgeoisie flirt and fall in and out of love with each other - in between suicide attempts and monologues about the impossibility of happiness and love. So this movie is probably the root of more Woody Allen movies than any other.

Even though it has its dour patches, the movie as a whole is charming and warm and very removed from the Bergman that would bring us the likes of The Virgin Spring and Through a Glass Darkly just a few years later. It's also erotic as many Bergman films are (I must admit quite enjoying the contribution of Harriet Andersson as Petra, the maid) and it has some of that gorgeous Scandinavian light courtesy of cinematographer Gunnar Fischer, who also did The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries.

The Simpsons Movie (2007)

I can't say that it's much more than an extended, above-average episode of the show, but there are ways that it transcends the standard television-viewing experience. Foremost of these is the experience of watching the Simpsons with a live theatrical audience, which was super fun. Next is the movie's gorgeous widescreen animation, colorful and sharp, giving the film an epic scope it's never had before. Finally, there's the simple fact that the extra running time means that we can spend more time luxuriating with the characters and their relationships, primarily between Homer and Marge and Homer and Bart. There have been dozens of episodes where Homer does something stupid and Marge questions whether or not she should remain with him, until he manages to redeem himself; it's probably the show's most common basic storyline, but for a reason: it works. Homer's arc is one that we can all learn from: the movement away from single-minded self-interest into selflessness and broader consciousness, from passivity to action. Of course Homer needs constant refresher courses in this lesson - we all do.

Addendum 8/6/07: One week later, and this movie has all but vacated my head.

Rescue Dawn (2007)

As much as I enjoyed this movie, I can't help but think of it as something I'd seen before, and not just because it's the second time Werner Herzog has told the story of Dieter Dengler's adventures, after Little Dieter Needs to Fly. By narrowing the story down to Dengler's Laotian captivity, escape, and jungle ordeal, Herzog basically has made a fairly conventional prisoner-of-war movie. Not that it's without its personalized, subversive streak - when asked what patriotic or religious thoughts kept him going in the jungle, Christian Bale's Dieter responds that he just kept thinking of eating steak, and then a moment later with the Herzogian non sequitur, "When something is empty, fill it. When something is full, empty it. When you have an itch, scratch it."

What's best about the movie are the ensemble performances from Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, and the other men held prisoner; and Herzog's standard blending of narrative of fiction, shooting his action documentary-style right before our eyes.