I've developed this pattern of only posting two or three times a month, mostly involving a Youtube video and a post of short reviews starting with the phrase, "I apologize" so let's just move on from there with quick thoughts on things I've watched since my last review.
Drag Me to Hell. Something of a minor masterpiece, and pretty much the best studio movie I've seen this year. Sam Raimi makes movies that look like cheesy, insubstantial fun but actually have a spine of moralistic steel underneath - Alison Lohman's character performs a wrong, refuses to take responsibility for it (not unlike Mena Suvari in last year's Stuck) and winds up paying the penalty for it. That Raimi could make such a sturdy depiction of individual responsibility in a world that increasingly wants to deny such things - in a movie where an anvil drops on somebody's head and their eyeballs pop out - is some kind of triumph. 9/10
Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country. It's not an easy thing to make a comprehensible film out of a mass of character-less handheld video footage, and the filmmakers here found an ingenious solution, structuring their film around a framing story of one Burmese resistance member coordinating the flow of footage by phone and computer. It's a well-made and fascinating movie, still limited by its topicality to a certain time and place, but crafted strongly enough that it should retain watchability longer than other such political documentaries. 7/10
Up. Pixar's movies have settled into a certain familiarity, which is both good and bad - I kind of want them to exit their comfort zone a little bit more they have lately - only Brad Bird seems to be able to provide real surprises from within the Pixar formula. Still, entertaining, funny, and affecting (and better than Wall-E). 8/10
Terminator Salvation: Stupid and pointless. Just a series of rambling and expensive set pieces linked by a flaccid and poorly motivated narrative. Still, better than the incoherent and boring Wolverine thanks to a good performance from Sam Worthington and some legitimately okay action scenes. 4/10
Moon: Reasonably entertaining and well-acted, but kind of unimaginative. You can stick a guy on the Moon, and the only thing you can have him do is take part in yet another 'corporations are evil' bulldozer? Come on, David Bowie's son, show us something we haven't seen before. Here's an idea for the sequel: Two Sam Rockwells are good, but a dozen are better. 6/10
Land of the Lost: Misbegotten. I like the idea of creating a bizarre fantasy-landscape made of fragments of every era of history. Too bad they populated it with a pair of unlikeable idiots and a vacuous bit of female eye candy. 4/10
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Low expectations helped me to experience this movie as tolerable and not eyeball-gougingly awful. The narrative and characters make no sense to the point of being downright insulting to the audience (stepping through a door from Washington's Air and Space Museum to some Southwestern desert? Fuck you too, Michael Bay). But all of that is beside the point given Bay's command of spectacle, which he manages to deliver on. There are amazing, earth-shattering sights in this movie. Too bad they're still embedded within a very expensive commercial for Hasbro, GM and the U.S. military. Oh, and those racist Autobots? Soooooo amazingly racist. I can't believe that Bay isn't getting laughed out of theaters the same way M. Night Shyamalan and Brian DePalma have been in recent years. Also, I realize this may put me in the minority, but I find Megan Fox's appearance to be creepy and a little disgusting, like an overblown drag queen parody of femininity. I can almost imagine an actual good-looking women coming up to her and going, 'are you making fun of me?'. 3/10
Bruno: Sort of funny, but really only in an 'I'm so much smarter than those people on screen!' kind of way. I enjoyed Borat but only because it was more honestly outrageous and more warmhearted, factors that feel warmed-over and insincere this time. Sacha Baron Cohen is amazingly talented and a courageous performer - too bad he has so little interest in using his talents in the service of any idea larger than dividing his audience into the 'get-its' and the 'don't get its'. Ron Paul is a loony and a homophobe (apparently) but he deserves better than this kind of unfair ambush comedy. 5/10
And the most interesting old movies that I've seen lately:
The Sinful Dwarf (1973): A demented little person teams up with his faded showgirl mother to kidnap girls for a sex-slavery operation. You've never seen so much devious mugging in your whole life in this grimy, entrancing bit of schlock. 5/10
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975): Sort of a case study in cinematic S&M, watching a series of men being dominated by the towering, imperious Ilsa, as played by Dyanne Thorne, who winds up getting an appropriate comeuppance from her concentration camp wards. Probably more interested in terms of pathology, but like The Sinful Dwarf, something of a must-see for fans of '70s softcore kitsch, and better than its sequel, Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks (which played as part of a New Beverly double feature). 5/10
Ivan the Terrible Parts I & II(1944-46). Eisenstein's unfinished trilogy is an amazing achievement, an expressionistic political nightmare that extends beyond Stalin-era allegory into the realm of Shakespeare. I especially liked Part II as the film descended even deeper into realms of paranoia and lunacy. 8/10 and 9/10.
The Long Riders (1980). Another New Beverly viewing, a sort of rambling and not particularly focussed Western about the James and Younger gangs. Like the Andrew Dominik/Brad Pitt film from a couple of years ago, I don't think it makes a coherent statement about what it means to be an outlaw or a folk hero or anything like that. It does have a bunch of fun performances from the likes of David Carradine, Stacy Keach, and Pamela Reed, plus a fairly amazing Peckinpah-esque shootout sequence. 7/10
Hospital (1970). I've seen four Frederick Wiseman films now, and with each new one I feel like he's an essential, underrated American genius. The trick is subtlety: a lot of movies take on social issues, but not many use his strategy, seen here, of merely observing ordinary people and letting their simple dramatic situations illustrate the pedantic points that Wiseman wants to make. It's more effective than just interviewing the same people and letting a narrator fill in the gaps. 9/10
Hopefully more to come soon.