I write because I am written.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, et al.
Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
Viewed: July 26, 2008
Review: A huge pet peeve of mine (even worse than love triangles) is forced predicaments. Now, take a forced predicament, bloat it with postmodern nonsense, stick it in the fourth act of what should have been a three-act film, and attach it to two of the most unrealistic (though memorable) bad guys you’ve ever seen, and that’s why I’m mad at The Dark Knight. I wish I could enjoy the Joker…but I can’t. I’m too busy thinking, “No such evil ex nihilo exists.” I wish I could feel for Harvey Dent, but I can’t stop laughing at his face and tripping over the fact that in real life, he’d be very, very dead. I wish I could wring my hands for Gordon’s little boy, but I’m industriously counting the number of times this movie should have ended and I’m running out of fingers. I wish I could salute Batman’s assumption of guilt, but I can’t stop yelling: “FORCED PREDICAMENT.”
Watch it for Heath Ledger’s genius. That’s it.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, et al.
Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
Viewed: July 20, 2012
Review: By far the trilogy’s best. Who knows if the Brothers Nolan actually meant to tell an old-fashioned fairytale, but they did — a big, brawling, bombastic fairytale where the good guy actually wins and actually gets the girl. Click here for a fuller review on how they managed to breathe life into The Dark Knight’s dead bones.
Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Dan Brown
Stars: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno
Viewed: January 13, 2007
Review: I must say, the style of the movie gripped me (totally ignoring Tom Hanks’s there-goes-all-his-self-esteem haircut). But I can think of no better way to capture just how ridiculous the story is than to quote this fine review: “The Catholic Church [and Protestant, let me add] has nothing to fear from this film. It is not just tripe. It is self-evident, spirit-lowering tripe that could not conceivably cause a single member of the flock to turn aside from the faith.” I’d put that in all caps if it didn’t make it difficult to read.
And I can still remember snorting when the gorgeous Jesus-descendant tries to walk on water, to see if she has enough “God” in her. Um, Jesus didn’t walk on water because He was God, He walked on water because He had faith. Dubito ergo sink, duckie.
Writers: Roland Emmerich, et al.
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum
Viewed: March 6, 2008
Review: I forgave way too much of this idiotic movie. I just happen to be a sucker for violent weather. Can’t help it. And I’m also a sucker for stories about random strangers who have to survive hell together.
Writer: Andrea Gibb
Stars: Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone, Gerard Butler
Viewed: December 19, 2008
Review: My favorite Gerard Butler film, which has a lot to do with the fact that he doesn’t run around eight-packing everyone to death. And Emily Mortmer plays one of the toughest mothers I’ve seen. For true masculinity, true fatherhood, true feminine strength, and true love, look no further than Dear Frankie.
Director: Edward Zwick
Writers: Clayton Frohman, Edward Zwick, Nechama Tec
Stars: Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell
Viewed: September 13, 2009
Review: I’ve heard that this World War II drama doesn’t live up to the book, and that’s probably true. But at least until I’ve read the book and can judge for myself, I’m recommending this movie.
To give some perspective, I wasn’t smitten with it the first two times I watched it. I thought it was solid, not terrific — one of those stories that you almost resent for being true because you wish they could have tampered with it to make it more exciting, but then you feel guilty for not going over at the knees for something that really happened! What’s wrong with you?
Well, that would be my fault, not the movie’s. It’s March of 2013 and I just watched it for the third time after a three-year fast, and it was truly a feast. Defiance isn’t something you can shove down in a few gulps and be done. That’s what Twinkies are for. (That’s what Transformers is for.) Defiance deserves to be taken as it is given: slowly, deliberately, and in layers.
It’s the Exodus story, which is to say, it’s the Gospel story. A persecuted people. A reluctant, imperfect hero. Brother envy. Whining in the wilderness. Traitors in the camp. Bitterness that betrays. Faith that breaks. Sacrifice that saves. God who gives. Miracle after miracle.
And unlike many movies that pack in so much Christian truth, this one happens to be well done. I’ve hardly ever seen a movie that says so many good things without pounding them from a pulpit. Opposing critics simultaneously labeled it “understated” (in a bad way) and “heavy-handed,” which should tell you that Defiance is in just the right spot.
If you aren’t strengthened by this movie, it might be that you just don’t appreciate the subtlety. You might have numbed your heart with too many car chases. Give that a rest. Feed your soul with a story that, though filled with death, affirms life by showing over and over how to live it, how to deny it, how to lay it down, how to give it up. This is the story that will save the world.
Writers: Bill Marsilii, Terry Rossio
Stars: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Jim Caviezel, Val Kilmer
Viewed: December 20, 2007
Review: Charismatic nonsense. Enjoyable if you aren’t hungry for something that will impact the solar system — or if you’re looking for proof that Jim Caviezel really can’t play baddies.
Writer: Robert Rodriguez
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida
Viewed: February 12, 2012
Review: Robert Rodriguez told Reinol Martinez in El Mariachi that no, he couldn’t have a bed scene with three women because “it’s not that kind of movie.” Well, Desperado is that kind of movie. And on top of the marathon sex, the story simply felt like the rough draft of a good idea. Watching the movie (with edits) won’t be a sin, but it will be a frustration — and maybe an inspiration to do something better with Rodriguez’s scraps.
Writers: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio
Stars: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand
Viewed: December 29, 2010
Review: Gets carried away with salt and pepper and forgets to serve the main dish. This badly needed to be done by Pixar or Dreamworks.
Writers: Christopher Russell, Edith Pargeter
Stars: Derek Jacobi, Terrence Hardiman, Christien Anholt
Viewed: March 13, 2006
Review: Low-budget (not its fault) and based on a story written by a woman who dotes on her handsome adolescent heroes far too much (should have fixed that).
Writer: Frederick Knott
Stars: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings
Viewed: May 19, 2007
Review: Didn’t like it. Don’t remember exactly why, but it had something to do with the fact that the hero is trying to murder his wife.
Director: John McTiernan
Writers: Roderick Thorp, Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza
Stars: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia
Viewed: February 5, 2005
Review: This movie triumphs like a nuke: every last stinking detail works perfectly and blows up right on time. Far inferior cop movies are still succeeding 25 years later because they’re high on the fumes of this violent, macho, cuss-crammed, pumped-up classic.
Writers: Mark Bomback, et al.
Stars: Bruce Willis, Justin Long, Timothy Olyphant
Viewed: February 12, 2012
Review: Not a total flop, by any means; just a rather weak-kneed effort all around. Honestly, the bad guy needs a bigger butt if John McClane’s gonna be kicking it. We know from Justified that Timothy Olyphant is capable of beautifully subtle, nuanced acting, so it’s frankly pitiful to watch him reduced to all the complexity of a few steely-eyed stares.
Writers: Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner
Stars: Sam Neill, Billy Mitchell, Roz Hammond
Viewed: November 7, 2010
Review: I am everlastingly grateful to this quiet, solid little Aussie movie for proving that you can tell a true, emotionally-charged story without mawkish wallowing. Some really nice character work here.
Writers: Christopher Landon, Carl Ellsworth, et al.
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, David Morse, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sarah Roemer
Viewed: August 19, 2007
Review: Critics appreciated Disturbia for its Hitchcocky slow build and a notable performance from the ever reliable Shia LaBeouf — and so did I, but they are the only two good things (besides the opening car wreck) in this voyeuristic smash-up of cheap teen sex and tawdry evil that would make real devils roll their eyes. It just doesn’t happen that way. My friends were screaming and climbing into my lap and up onto my head, but I was just annoyed (and not at them). If it doesn’t convince me, it doesn’t scare me, no matter how slimy and dismembered the body parts are.
Writers: Joseph D. Pistone, Richard Woodley, et al.
Stars: Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, Michael Madsen
Viewed: August 19, 2011
Review: I begrudgingly endured the first hour, then fast-forwarded through the rest to see if it got any better. It didn’t. The hero was smudgy and the story dragged its sorry butt around, dying for an editor to whip it into shape. Never have I better understood the value of the deleted scene.
Writers: Richard Kelly
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Viewed: October 4, 2009
Review: Felt like I was staring at a Magic Eye. Magic Eyes never work for me. Was I missing something? Where was the good stuff? I tumbled through this sickly surreal rabbit hole and hated every minute of it.
Writers: David Weisberg, Douglas Cook
Stars: Ashley Judd, Tommy Lee Jones, Bruce Greenwood
Viewed: August 11, 2004
Review: Can’t remember much besides wishing I could like this as much as I like Tommy Lee Jones. I’d have a more penetrating review if I watched it again, but then I would have to watch it again.
Writers: Hossein Amini, James Sallis
Stars: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac
Viewed: February 4, 2012
Review: It’s really quite odd. The camera spends most of its time frozen on Ryan Gosling’s face (but it’s Ryan Gosling’s face! — pant, pant — Where’s a paper bag?), the two lead actors refuse to say half their lines, the story ends with the hero bloody and brideless, and people just go over at the knees. “One of the years very best.” (R.L. Shaffer) ”Pretty darn perfect!” (Kristal Cooper) “The best movie of 2011.” (Erick Weber)
Please. Drive is minimalist, postmodern bilge with a few salvageable gems hardly worth rooting out. Most people just won’t enjoy the film, and they shouldn’t. The hero is nameless and unknowable, scene after scene crawls at quarter-speed for no good reason, the violence is unbelievable, and the ending is a gosh-awful “vanity of vanities” shrug.
Part of me welcomed the movie’s hyper-stylized, menacing stillness with open arms; it truly is a relief after the over-caffeinated camera jitters of Paul Greengrass (king of the hand-held), and I appreciated it because it should pull us out of our ditch of ADHD. The problem is, Drive lands us straight in the other ditch, which is just as muddy. (“But it’s new! Fresh! Different!” Guys, it’s just another ditch.) Slow is as slow does. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, it’s not cool, it’s just slow.
Then there’s the gore. I’ve got steel for nerves and have stared unflinching at Apocalypto, The Passion, Pan’s Labyrinth, and many others, but I looked away from Drive. It isn’t a pints-of-blood problem; drop for drop, it doesn’t even come close to rivaling Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down. It’s a worldview problem. In God’s world, bloodshed (and showing it) has a point. Violence serves the story, not the other way around. But when you don’t believe in the Storyteller, what reason do you have for telling the story at all? What sense does any of it make? Stab a guy in the eye over here, boot another guy’s face into a puddle on the elevator floor over there, so what? Postmodernism seeks to destroy God’s narrative devices, and in the bleak, pointless world it creates, the violence — especially stomach-churning violence like this — hits really, really hard. It’s all just vanity and grasping for the wind…or the girl, but the hero doesn’t get her, either.
Which leads me to the movie’s ending. Deny the guy his bride and everyone thinks the movie declares something profound, but it doesn’t. It simply says the guy doesn’t get the girl, which says something fundamentally false about God, the world, and where history is going. “New twists and storytelling turns!” enthuses Weber. Yes, indeed: twists and turns that tell a lie. Don’t twist the world into a shape God didn’t make.
Drive is good for someone willing to grapple and come away with a few hard-earned trinkets on tension, cinematography, and lighting. That’s about it. Plunder and fight. It could be worth the bruise on your face.
Writers: Jeffrey Hatcher, Anders Thomas Jensen, et al.
Stars: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper
Viewed: March 10, 2010
Review: I didn’t know I could ever feel sorry (or have anything other than gut-level loathing) for Keira Knightley, so the fact that she earned some sympathy is just wild. But I still didn’t feel as sorry as they wanted me to feel. They tried to stack the deck in her favor by giving her an unfeeling, unfaithful brute of a husband so that when she does finally commit adultery with her old high school sweetheart, we all nod sympathetically. Yes, we understand. Go for it, girl. Follow your heart. (Because hearts never led anyone astray!) The only uptick to the story is that the pitiable duchess ends up choosing to stay with her husband for the sake of her children. Eh. Poor wife becomes bad wife becomes good mother. Okay. I’d have more sympathy and admiration if she were a tough girl throughout.
Director: Edward Bennett
Writers: Agatha Christie, Douglas Watkinson
Stars: David Suchet, Hugh Fraser
Viewed: May 29, 2008
Review: Refreshing to step away from American stuff every now and then for some British intelligence.
Director: Tony Gilroy
Writers: Tony Gilroy
Stars: Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Tom Wilkinson
Viewed: September 25, 2009
Review: Romantic comedy with a brain. Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, State of Play, all the Bournes) works as tight a job as ever, complimenting his audience with smart, lovely clues where other screenwriters slop out plot exposition as into a trough. Indeed, there are almost too many plot twists in this one — which is a fine fault to have for a change.