One of the birthday presents I received this year was an upgrade to my Netflix account, which means that in the last month I've been getting to tear through more movies than ever before; unfortunately, though, that also means tearing through a larger amount of only so-so movies than ever before, films for which I have barely anything interesting to say. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found alphabetically in CCLaP's main list of mini-reviews.
Written by Randall Wallace; directed by Mel Gibson
"They can take our historical accuracy...but they can never take our freedom!!!" It's what I wanted to keep shouting while watching the dreadfully cartoonish 1995 Scottish "saga" Braveheart, which takes the half-legendary tale of Medieval patriot William Wallace and then butchers what little facts we actually do know about those times and people. I mean, the movie looks great, don't get me wrong, the same thing that can be said of all the other movies Mel Gibson has now directed, leading me to often refer to him here as our generation's Cecil B. DeMille; it's just that the story is so ridiculously over the top, like a Simpsons parody of a historical epic instead of an actual historical epic, with the English for example guilty in this film of just about every despicable act known to man, short of raping puppies and bathing in their blood afterwards. It's a hokey film, one I had to simply turn off halfway through because it was so eye-rollingly silly; do yourself a favor and just watch Apocalypto, if you want a dash of Gibson's well-known sumptuous visual style.
Out of 10: 4.7
Written by Robert Nelson Jacobs (screenplay) and Joanne Harris (novel); directed by Lasse HallstrÃ¶m
So why did I end up sitting down recently and watching a fey little delicate magical-realism fairytale like Chocolat? Why, because one of CCLaP's readers specifically asked me to, in fact, specifically because they were interested in my opinion, a challenge I'll happily take on regarding any film anyone wants to write in about (at cclapcenter [at] gmail.com). And indeed, there's no denying that this is a delightful little romp in the style of AmÃ©lie and other modern urban fairytales, the story of a mother and daughter who move to a conservative village in France in the early 1960s and open a chocolate store, confections with bizarre properties that are somehow mysteriously adding zip, vim and increased libido to all the village's residents (in a delightfully quirky way, of course; think horny 60-year-olds awkwardly courting each other). This is not exactly my favorite style of story or movie, although I don't mind watching a well-done one every so often; and this is for sure a well-done one, including great performances by Juliette Binoche in the lead role and Johnny Depp as a devilishly handsome homeless Irish "river rat" who comes into their lives about halfway through. Recommended, but only if you naturally enjoy these kinds of movies from the start.
Out of 10: 8.3
Kill Bill (2003-04)
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino. Sigh. What were we thinking? I admit, I too was once an obsessive fan of his, and especially after catching his first feature Reservoir Dogs in the theatres when it first came out in 1992; that explosive debut really is a great little movie worth noting, a masterful blend of tight dialogue, smart noir gimmicks, and endless pop-culture references, while specifically keeping its small budget in mind and creating a series of fascinating alternatives to the usual expensive Hollywood tricks. Ah, but then came 1994's Pulp Fiction, which I liked but even from the start used to describe to my friends as "Reservoir Dogs dumbed down for the frat-boy crowd;" and then after that was 1997's Jackie Brown, which clearly shows not a maturing and expanding director but one content to keep grinding the same gears over and over.
And indeed, let me confess that I could barely sit through the exhausting exercise in audience patience which is the two-part, four-hour Kill Bill, from 2003 and '04; it is clearly nothing more than a $100 million version of a crude Hong Kong kung-fu movie, which even five years later is looking less like a bold visionary move and more like a sign of everything that's been going wrong with Hollywood this decade. Combine this with the Mountain-Dewesque "XTREEEME!!!!" corporate friendliness of his latest crap like Grindhouse, and it makes you start wondering what any of us ever saw in Tarantino in the first place, and why we've allowed him to become as big and influential as he currently is; I have to admit, I think I might be through with him myself, or at least until he releases a movie again which somehow isn't a grossly commercial homage to everything empty and superficial about our society.
Out of 10: 2.8
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Written by Michael Hirst and william Nicholson; directed by Shekhar Kapur
A sequel to Shekhar Kapur's slick and popular 1998 historical epic Elizabeth, using much of the same crew and cast, this newest film in the series isn't bad at all; indeed, it almost feels like the crew simply put the cameras down at the end of the original, left the sets as they were, and put a giant dropcloth over the entire thing for a decade until they were ready to shoot this one. Now, that said, these films are bound to drive some of you crazy; without a doubt, for example, Kapur is much more interested in capturing arresting visual images than in being historically accurate, or even at points telling a compelling story. It's a soap-operish version of the Tudor history, one filled with sex and violence and the most stunning costumes this side of Merchant-Ivory; you're either going to dig it or not, depending mostly on what you think of such past visually sumptuous but soap-operish historical sagas.
Out of 10: 7.5
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Written by Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson; directed by Wes Anderson
The latest quirky dramedy by indie-film god Wes Anderson, this is again not a bad movie at all, but simply feels like ones I've already seen; it's basically The Royal Tenenbaums on a train in India, and if you squint and turn down the volume some you'll scarcely be able to tell the difference between the two. It's good, don't get me wrong; it's funny, it's touching, the images that Anderson captures are incredible, and as always there's a bite to the humor that takes a certain refined palette to get and appreciate. It's just that...oh, I don't know. There's just nothing new to say about this film that hasn't already been said a million times about Anderson and his ouevre; and that's a little disappointing, even with the film itself being just fine in nature. Recommended for completists, but otherwise I'm not sure if I would bother.
Out of 10: 7.9
Superman Returns (2006)
Written by Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris and Bryan Singer; directed by Bryan Singer
Out of 10: 0.0