Babette’s Feast (1987)
Writers: Karen Blixen (novel), Gabriel Axel (screenplay)
Stars: Stephane Audran, Bodil Kjer, Birgitte Federspiel
Viewed: January 10, 2010
Review: A quiet, leisurely, full-course film. It’s great especially for those who struggle with appreciating the sensuality of food–or with valuing shoestring-budgeted movies that speak the truth.
The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
Writer: Rebecca Miller
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Catherine Keener, Camilla Belle, Paul Dano
Viewed: September 28, 2008
Review: A disgusting, muddle-headed mess. Penned by Rebecca Miller (daughter of playwright Arthur Miller and wife of star Daniel Day-Lewis), The Ballad of Jack and Rose explores a number of sexual dynamics: widower + single mom; father + daughter; promiscuous adolescent + sheltered virgin. And it’s all sick and sad. Watching it is like taking a microscope to a pile of dog doo while stirring it with a stick: you might get a glimpse of “real life,” but there’s no point, and it looks bad and smells worse.
Band of Brothers (2001)
Directors: David Frankel, Mikael Salomon
Writers: Stephen Ambrose (book), et al.
Stars: Damien Lewis, Scott Grimes, Ron Livingston, Donnie Wahlberg, Peter Youngblood Hills
Viewed: January 4, 2010
Review: A massively ambitious, hugely triumphant saga. Band of Brothers is one of the few movies that might actually be better than the book, purely because the visual telling of this kind of story is so compelling. I’ve seen the opening credits alone bring people to tears. In a day when the heroes of World War II are dying, along with the freedoms they bled for, this story shall the good man teach his son.
Batman Begins (2005)
Writers: Bob Kane, David S. Goyer, et al.
Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson
Viewed: November 14, 2005
Review: A buff beginning, to be sure, but Christopher Nolan bites off more than he can effectively chew in a single, well-paced movie. It just takes him so darn long to work through this load of bats, bad guys, and backstory.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Sylvia Nasar
Stars: Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Paul Bettany
Viewed: February 15, 2009
Review: I know little about bipolarity and even less about the real John Nash, which leaves me in a tight spot as far as judging this movie goes. Let’s stick with what I do know: Russell Crowe can act. So can Paul Pettany. And even though I’m reserving judgment on the whole mental illness thing, I can’t help but notice that all of Nash’s fantasies were all about him. He spun a web of imaginary characters and plots that featured and promoted his own brilliance. Genius? Yeah. But probably not beautiful.
Beyond the Gates (2005)
Writers: David Wolstencroft, Richard Alwyn, et al.
Stars: John Hurt, Hugh Dancy
Viewed: November 16, 2007
Review: Meh. Sentimentalism robs history of its power. And if Hugh Dancy were any cuter (not possible), it’d sufficiently distract from the fact that he’s got a grand total of three facial expressions to his name.
The Big Trail (1930)
Writers: Hal G. Evarts, et al.
Stars: John Wayne, Marguerite Churchill
Viewed: August 12, 2006
Review: Twenty-three-year-old John Wayne’s first movie role, as well as the one that gave him his name. (The producers decided that Marion Morrison was just not okay.) Worth watching if you want to see the birth of a legend.
Writers: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin
Viewed: April 17, 2010
Review: Ungainly, over-caffeinated jabberwocky — and arguably the movie Keanu Reeves was created for. He can’t act, so he’s best either not acting (The Matrix), or acting natural (Bill & Ted).
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Mark Bowden (book), Ken Nolan (screenplay)
Stars: Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana, Tom Sizemore, Ewan McGregor, Jason Isaacs, Sam Shepard
Viewed: March 17, 2008
Review: My grandfather knows war. He’s fought three of them: WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He’s flown through death, dodged its bullets, and dropped the end of the world on men buried deep in the jungle. He’s bailed out, he’s been shot at, and almost shot down. Ask him about his missions and he’ll tell you. He’ll remember every detail. When Black Hawk Down was released, he called my mom and said: “Don’t watch it. It’s way too real.”
My grandfather would know.
Black Hawk Down is magnificent not only because it’s a terrific production on all counts, but because it’s the true story of good soldiers who stick to their training and to each other in the middle of a horrific snafu. It’s one thing to watch Saving Private Ryan where the men blown to pieces on the beach actually gain that beach. It’s one thing to watch We Were Soldiers where the Americans, with all their casualties, do win the battle. It’s completely different to see a force of 160 men get decimated—caught between an evil warlord with no rules of engagement, and their own commander-in-chief who neutered his troops and sent them into battle with all the worst rules of engagement. (When his son posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his danger-be-damned attempt to rescue Mike Durant, Herbert Shughart refused to shake President Clinton’s hand. “You are not fit to be president of the United States,” said Shughart. “The blame for my son’s death rests with the White House and with you. You are not fit to command.”)
I’ve heard it said by many veterans that no matter how much you might sign up to fight for your country, when the bullets start flying, it’s just you and the buddy next to you. You fight for each other. And nowhere have I seen this more true than in Black Hawk Down. What starts as a simple mission to get the bad guy derails into a sheer fight to survive and get out. In this case, heroism isn’t taking over German tanks or wiping out the Vietcong, it’s simply picking up the pieces of your own team. The only thing that matters now is leaving no man behind.
My grandmother told Granddad that he owed her ten chick flicks after she sat through this. I would say, if that’s what it takes. Whatever it takes, watch it. If you don’t have any idea what the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3, 1993 was all about, if you don’t have any anger over the way America has been limp-wristing her way through most of her wars for the past fifty years, if you feel no need to shake the veteran’s hand when you see him in the grocery story, then watch Black Hawk Down. Watch it because it’s way too real.
The Blind Side (2009)
Writers: John Lee Hancock, Michael Lewis (book)
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Quinton Aaron, Tim McGraw
Viewed: May 27, 2010
Review: I was worried that this would be sentimental, but it turned out to be a homey pick-me-up powered by one awesome Sandra Bullock. Made me proud to be a woman and proud to be a Southern one.
Blood Diamond (2006)
Writers: Charles Leavitt, et al.
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly
Viewed: July 27, 2009
Review: The premise bites where the story sags. Blood Diamond slows in parts, but it’s a great illustration of the hell that breaks loose when man values a part of God’s creation over his neighbor created in God’s image. Little dragons torching the world over their treasure. That’s all it is.
Body of Lies (2008)
Writers: William Monahan (screenplay), David Ignatius (novel)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong
Viewed: February 20, 2010
Review: Surprisingly vapid and uneven for a Ridley-Crowe-Leo mix. If you want to see Russell totally own his villain, watch 3:10 to Yuma instead. As for the let’s-use-a-ball-peen hammer-to-smash-DiCaprio’s-finger-into-bloody-paste scene, the violence felt forced (which is rare for Ridley Scott)–like it was thrown in just to make the audience remember it. (Which I do.)
The Bone Collector (1999)
Writers: Jeffery Deaver (book), Jeremy Iacone (screenplay)
Stars: Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah
Viewed: March 20, 2008
Review: Wildly unfeasible. I love crime thrillers and I have a stomach of iron, but injecting grisly for grisly’s sake is lazy and frequently just plain goofy. The writers have no idea how evil really works, which makes all their attempts at horror purely snortable.
The Bounty (1984)
Writers: Richard Hough (book), Robert Bolt (screenplay)
Stars: Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis, Liam Neeson, Bernard Hill
Viewed: June 26, 2005
Review: Rancorous and nasty. I was excited about this because it had a number of my favorite actors when they were all just getting started: Daniel Day-Lewis, Mel Gibson, Liam Neeson. But not even they could save this story from being just a bunch of road rage (on the open sea).
The Bourne Identity (2002)
Director: Doug Liman
Writers: Robert Ludlum (novel), Tony Gilroy, et al.
Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox
Viewed: July 6, 2004
Review: The kick-off to my favorite action-hero series (comparing Jason Bourne to, say, Jack Bauer and James Bond).
The Bourne Legacy (2012)
Director: Tony Gilroy
Writers: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy, et al.
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton
Viewed: August 10, 2012
Review: There’s nothing new under the sun, nor does there need to be. You just have to handle old stuff really, really well, and that’s pretty much what Tony Gilroy does here. Full review over thisaway.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Robert Ludlum (novel), Tony Gilroy
Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Joan Allen
Viewed: April 22, 2005
Review: Even better than the first. Probably because Paul Greengrass took over for Doug Liman.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Tony Gilroy, et al.
Stars: Matt Damon, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Paddy Considine
Viewed: August 3, 2007
Review: My favorite Bourne. The climax isn’t as pulse-pounding as The Bourne Supremacy‘s, but the emotional impact hits harder.
The Boxer (1997)
Director: Jim Sheridan
Writers: Jim Sheridan, Terry George
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Emily Watson
Viewed: April 19, 2008
Review: I like that Jim Sheridan goes for character-driven stories (My Left Foot, Brothers), but he tends to drag his feet a little on the delivery. As for Daniel Day-Lewis, the only scene where he really gets a chance to show his legendary craft is when he gets mad at the bad guy, who isn’t even in the room. Does any other actor turn pale with rage at will? Day-Lewis does.
Boy A (2007)
Director: John Crowley
Writers: Jonathan Trigell, Mark O’Rowe
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Peter Mullan
Viewed: January 5, 2013
Review: The gold ring in this particular pig’s snout would be true-to-life characters, incredibly natural dialogue, and an amazingly raw performance from Andrew Garfield — restrained, unselfconscious, seeming to emanate from him when most actors would simply execute a series of rehearsed habits. The problem (besides the gratuitous bed fun) is the wreck of an ending. “You deserve a second chance — you’ve earned this,” says Garfield’s parole officer again and again. But the truth is, no one deserves it. “Deserving” a second chance will only get you killed. Grace alone will set you free — and grace is entirely lacking in the dismal, life-is-a-machine conclusion.
The Boys are Back (2009)
Writers: Allan Cubitt (adaptation), Simon Carr (novel)
Stars: Clive Owen, Emma Booth, Laura Fraser
Viewed: October 16, 2010
Review: A visually sharp but more than slightly confused parenting manual. Stands out because it’s the first movie that got me this close to tears within the first 15 minutes.
Director: Mel Gibson
Writers: Randall Wallace
Stars: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Brendan Gleeson
Viewed: March 24, 2004
Review: One of the top five movies I’ve ever seen. It’s sad that you have to ignore Mel’s late self-destructive shenanigans to enjoy it, but fortunately I find that easy. William Wallace is a man’s man, a warrior’s warrior, a hero’s hero.
Director: Terry Gilliam
Writers: Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, et al.
Stars: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro
Viewed: February 23, 2013
Review: I’ve never wanted to turn off a movie so fast. I don’t watch films if I don’t like the way they make me feel (please don’t read into that too much), and Brazil made me feel immediately and utterly sick with despair. It’s sad, and I don’t mean sad in a melancholy way, I mean sad in its worldview. Old Yeller isn’t sad. Schindler’s List isn’t sad. Wit isn’t sad. Brazil is sad. And every person in the US should see it.
Similar to 1984 in its day, Brazil shows what the world will be like — a world we’re fast approaching. And it does so with a deep, vicious hatred for it all. I’ve never seen any film attack all the points of secular modernism so meticulously and relentlessly: from bureaucratic forms to plastic surgery to duct work.
The question of a sad worldview is actually up for debate. There are two ways to interpret the ending. One is to see the movie as proving that you will never be completely in chains. No matter how hard the tyrants try, no matter how many friends betray you, no matter how many Chinese-doll-masked monsters torture your body, they cannot completely own your mind. There’s always some small corner that they cannot own. The other interpretation (the one the movie made me feel) is that there is no answer to the evils in the world. Fight all you want. Run as fast as you can. Plead and bribe and cry, but the only solution is to dream loony dreams about a life that doesn’t hurt like this. That’s it. No hope.
However you choose to read the conclusion, the key thing to remember is that Brazil is a prophet, and prophets utter judgment. Any enjoyment comes in watching an abomination get ripped to shreds. Hence, Christians should learn from Terry Gilliam. If we took his loud, aggressive satire and brought it against more idols, the world would change. Evolution must be eviscerated. Abortion must be eviscerated. We need harsh, offensive, over-the-top satire. Turn the heat way up. Force people to look at the things they’ve long tried to bury.
Brazil may not offer a solution, but it does motivate to action. We look at that bleak, hideous, titanic government and think: “I have to do something.” Well, start by getting more people to watch Brazil.
Writers: Adam Mazer, et al.
Stars: Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe
Review: One of the most rock-solid, highly interesting, least actiony action movies I’ve seen. Chris Cooper is the gem here. I was skeptical when I heard that his performance sold the show, but it’s true: he sells it. I’ve rarely seen a more compellingly, realistically conflicted villain. Bonus whammo: it’s a true story. About a Russian spy. Who didn’t get caught for 20 years. Watch it.
Director: Rian Johnson
Writers: Rian Johnson
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Emilie de Ravin
Viewed: April 24, 2009
Review: Dexterity taken to the razor edge. This was my first taste of Rian Johnson, and I will watch every movie he makes unless it’s three times as dirty as Looper. It was also my first taste of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and he was good enough to convince me to also watch 500 Days of Summer (which I regretted) and Uncertainty (which I really regretted). But I digress. Brick isn’t the happiest story, but it’s a wicked fast mystery/chess-game hybrid with smart, on-the-double dialogue, perfect pacing, and a tenacious teenage hero. Plus, it’s the only movie with which I fell immediately in love by the opening shot alone.
Bride and Prejudice (2004)
Writers: Jane Austen, et al.
Stars: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Martin Henderson
Viewed: September 23, 2011
Review: The color splurge and wowza hip-and-belly moves distract from the puzzling (and pointless) character blips.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Director: Howard Hawks
Writers: Dudley Nichols, et al.
Stars: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant
Viewed: September 16, 2011
Review: To ask where the filmmakers lost their brains would be to assume they had any in the first place. If you want to see this movie done right, watch What’s Up, Doc?
Writers: David Benioff, et al.
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire
Viewed: January 5, 2011
Review: Veers viciously and precariously between two stories and crashes only when it runs out of gas. Tobey Maguire is amazing but very unpleasant to watch.
The Brothers Bloom (2008)
Director: Rian Johnson
Writers: Rian Johnson
Stars: Adrien Brody, Mark Rufalo, Rachel Weisz
Viewed: February 7, 2010
Review: My favorite Rian Johnson film. A few off-color moments should cause some distaste, but the overall story is beautiful and thrilling and (typical of Johnson) as breathtaking as the best magic trick you ever saw. Along with The Fall, Brothers Bloom made me excited to hear the voice of the Author speaking this tale all around me, minute by minute, miracle by miracle.
The Brothers Grimm (2005)
Writers: Ehren Kruger
Stars: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Monica Bellucci
Viewed: March 15, 2010
Review: A labored and messy laughingstock, but at least it never claims to be otherwise. Neither Damon’s nor Ledger’s best, though an interesting sidestep for both.
A Bug’s Life (1998)
Writers: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Dave Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Viewed: April 28, 2007
Review: Not my favorite Pixar. Not even close. See? I don’t remember a thing about it. Ants, maybe?
Director: George Roy Hill
Writer: William Goldman
Stars: Paul Newman, Robert Redford
Viewed: January 11, 2013
Review: Really enjoyed this. Was never really interested until I read Adventures in the Screentrade by William Goldman, and then (of course) I had to see his magic at work. The lack of an interpretive musical score gives the movie a slightly misshapen, oddly paced feel, but it also leaves more satisfying work for the audience in discovering all the rich gems.