The Fall (2006)
Director: Tarsem Singh
Writers: Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis, et al.
Stars: Lee Pace, Catinca Untaro
Viewed: October 15, 2009
Review: Color and story. Those are the two biggest things I remember about The Fall. And by “story” I don’t mean the bare plot (which I recall only in broad strokes), but story in the sense of the point of this whole thing we call Life and which far too many of us moan about when it ruffles our hair or licks our toes or trips us into a face plant. I mean story as God tells it–personal and deliberate with lots of love and attention to detail and a bigger sense of humor than ours. The Fall shows the power of recognizing the story you’re in, seeing the darkness and the multitude of inconveniences for what they are (plot-thickeners, character-builders), and surrendering your whinery up to the One with the pen. You’re a character. You don’t get to pick your own position on stage. You don’t get to pick your own exit. You can only pick how you choose to live the life written for you. Lee Pace: A badly injured, blue-funked young man who decides to tell a story the way he sees his own miserable life. Catinca Untaro: A little girl with a broken arm who knows how the story is supposed to go. We are Lee Pace. Once upon a time.
The Fantastic Four (2005)
Director: Tim Story
Writers: Mark Frost, Michael France, et al.
Stars: Ioan Gruffud, Chris Evans, Jessica Alba
Viewed: May 12, 2012
Review: Utter waste for everyone involved. Waste of time, waste of money, and I would say waste of talent except there were only negligible blips of that on the screen anyway. This movie is vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes. (But thank goodness it wasn’t Chris Evans’ one and only shot at superheroism.)
Father of the Bride (1991)
Director: Charles Shyer
Writers: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, et al.
Stars: Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Kimberly Williams-Paisley
Viewed: January 11, 2009
Review: I’m currently trying to put as much distance between myself and this movie as possible. It wasn’t that it stank to high heaven, it’s just that I was so very, very, very unstimulated by it in every way.
A Few Good Men (1992)
Director: Rob Reiner
Writers: Aaron Sorkin
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kiefer Sutherland
Viewed: April 24, 2012
Review: Minority Report, didn’t like him. Collateral, hated him. The Last Samurai, despised him. Valkyrie, he was okay. A Few Good Men is the first movie which, if I didn’t quite like because of Tom Cruise, at least I didn’t enjoy purely in spite of him. Credit goes to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin—that maestro of compelling stories, robust characters, and quick, brilliant, musical, savory, drop-dead inspiring dialogue.
The Fighter (2010)
Director: David O. Russell
Writers: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, et al.
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo
Viewed: March 20, 2011
Review: This is the only boxing movie where I remember literally nothing about the fights. It was the jittery, bug-eyed Bale (amazing; totally deserved his Oscar) and the feeling that I was watching long stretches of un-airbrushed, unflattering home video that gripped me. But for a movie so preoccupied with getting everything as true to life as possible, peppering the script with 150 F-bombs and a bevy of other crudities made no sense realistically (let alone morally or even artistically) because the real guys didn’t cuss like that. And the real Charlene wore more clothes than Amy Adams. That said, it remains one of the few movies I’m actually curious to watch again and see if it doesn’t deserve another half-star.
The Final Cut (2004)
Director: Omar Naim
Writers: Omar Naim
Stars: Robin Williams, Mira Sorvino, Jim Caviezel
Viewed: March 13, 2008
Review: A cool idea that went straight for the brain, never touched the heart. I appreciated it the way I appreciate the square of opposition or the table of elements. Offered little proof to counter my claim that Jim Caviezel can’t do bad guys.
Finding Neverland (2004)
Director: Marc Forster
Writers: Allan Knee, David Magee
Stars: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Radha Mitchell, Dustin Hoffman, Freddie Highmore
Viewed: March 23, 2005
Review: This is humanistic crapola on stilts. Though it portrays the creative process well, it does so with all the escapism and male immaturity of Peter Pan, that eternal crybaby. Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet are good, but not that good. Excuse me while I go find something else.
Director: Richard Loncraine
Writers: Joe Forte
Stars: Harrison Ford, Virginia Madsen, Paul Bettany
Viewed: November 19, 2010
Review: Criminally stupid. If you want to see Harrison Ford as a family-saving family man (and you do), stick with the Jack Ryan thrillers.
First Knight (1995)
Director: Jerry Zucker
Writers: Lorne Cameron, David Hoselton, et al.
Stars: Sean Connery, Richard Gere, Julia Ormond
Viewed: May 12, 2007
Review: I walked away halfway through this rubbish (the Lancelot-Guinevere story at its absolute animalistic worst), then went back and finished it the next day just to see how much shame and damnation it could heap on its head before the end. Sean Connery, he be awesome, but no king can save this movie from being what it is: a straight-up yuck fest that holds the record for grossest on-screen kiss ever.
Fist of Legend (1994)
Director: Gordon Chan
Writers: Gordon Chan, Kwong Kim Yip
Stars: Jet Li, Shinobu Nakayama, Siu-hou Chin
Viewed: November 24, 2007
Review: Fisty, legendy, Jet Li.
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: William Broyles Jr., Paul Haggis, et al.
Stars: Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Barry Pepper, Adam Beach, Jamie Bell
Viewed: July 19, 2008
Review: I gave up trying to navigate my way through this slow, muddled, sentimental slop. Out of respect for the men, I’ll go try the book.
Creators: Mark Ellis, Stephanie Morgenstern
Stars: Hugh Dillon, Enrico Colantoni, Amy Jo Johnson, David Paetkau
Viewed: October 28, 2012
Review: I was quite relieved to find this Canadian TV series. The characters are likable yet flawed (and are encouraged to grow). The dialogue isn’t as clever as in Justified, but it hits a number of sweet spots and it also lacks the reeking vulgarity of most “realistic” cop shows–yet the characters never come across as Victorian prigs. As for the plots (there’s a new hostage situation each episode), they get a little carried away, but still do a good job exploring each bad guy’s downward spiral instead of finger-puppeting them down the path of evil. If you, like me, need something meatier than the dolled up Criminal Minds, if you’re exhausted from all the bellowdrama of 24, if Luther is a tad too gritty, and if you turned off The Wire because even the good cops were disgusting, then you should watch Flashpoint.
Director: Robert Schwentke
Writers: Peter A. Dowling, Billy Ray
Stars: Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean
Viewed: March 10, 2006
Review: This was only 90 minutes but felt much longer, quickly convincing me (along with everyone else in the plane, even though we just saw the daughter for ourselves) that Jodie Foster must be crazy. She’s certainly driving us crazy. The biggest twist was casting Sean Bean as a good guy. And the repetitive, peakless score was a new worst for James Horner.
Director: Alan Shapiro
Writers: Ricou Browning, Jack Cowden, et al.
Stars: Elijah Wood, Paul Hogan
Viewed: June 20, 2007
Review: The script and character development are both so flavorless and undifficult, handing them to 14-year-old Elijah (less than four years before he won the part of Frodo) is like limiting Michelangelo to fingerpaint. There are some things you just don’t give to a master. Paul Hogan was great because he basically played himself. The dolphin was fine because mostly, he wasn’t real. The dialogue wasn’t fine because it definitely wasn’t real. For a film that really takes advantage of young Elijah’s acting prowess, go see The War. (Or you could watch The Good Son, but you won’t like it.)
Director: Tony Bill
Writers: Phil Sears, Blake T. Evans, et al.
Stars: James Franco, Jean Reno
Viewed: April 15, 2007
Review: This shabbily scripted movie is valuable for the history it (tries to) tell, but nothing ever really gets off the ground. At the time, Flyboys just became yet another of several movies (all three Spidermans, The Great Raid, and others that I simply avoided) that convinced me James Franco was simply a wannabe with a sexy scowl–until the phenomenal 127 Hours (written, shot, edited, and scored by wizards) finally gave him the proper room to strut his stuff. But Flyboys is also one of the few movies I’d be willing to give another go.
The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)
Director: Rob Minkoff
Writers: John Fusco
Stars: Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Michael Angarano
Viewed: December 29, 2008
Review: Even Jet Li and Jackie Chan combined can’t compete with the rest of the movie’s excessive lack of interest, originality, and brain.
The Forgotten (2004)
Director: Joseph Ruben
Writers: Gerald Di Pego
Stars: Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Linus Roache, Gary Sinise
Viewed: February 14, 2005
Review: I pity the ignorant me who watched this snooze-fest and was convinced it was original. I’d never seen a “he was captured by aliens” movie before. Well, I’ve got news for moviemakers: if you’re going for twists, don’t pretend to be smart and then surprise us with how dumb you are. That’s not a twist. That’s just dumb. And twisted. And dumb.
Four Christmases (2008)
Director: Seth Gordon
Writers: Matt Allen, Caleb Wilson, et al.
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau, Kristin Chenoweth, Tim McGraw
Viewed: December 4, 2010
Review: I have no idea why my friends and I sat through this. Afterwards, we all vowed never to remain silent during such a rotten movie again, even if we each think that we are the only one who smells (and minds) the poop storm on screen. Lesson learned: if it smells like a poop storm, there’s nothing wrong with your nose. But there’s definitely something wrong with you if you ignore it.
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Writers: Daniel Pyne, Glenn Gers, et al.
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike
Viewed: January 29, 2012
Review: Interesting throughout. Ryan Gosling (clearly hotter with a Southern drawl) and ice-cold Anthony Hopkins are both well cast in this tense, live-action chess game between a young hotshot prosecutor and the murderer who’s too smart for his own good. A few plot points are fetched from too far, but the movie overall is a finely ticking puzzle machine that keeps you guessing where the pieces go, down to the last second.
Director: Bill Paxton
Writers: Brent Hanley
Stars: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Boothe, Matt O’Leary, Jeremy Sumpter
Viewed: October 29, 2010
Review: An impressive, extremely sympathetic performance from young Matt O’Leary and a profoundly hideous, deeply unsatisfying worldview are the only things of note about this supernatural freak show. I’d heard it was super scary. It didn’t make enough sense to be scary. The one thing creepy about it was how wrong it was. Lies don’t scare me. The people who believe them (or believe they make effective stories) are what scare me.
The French Connection (1971)
Director: William Friedkin
Writers: Ernest Tidyman, Robin Moore, et al.
Stars: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Rey
Viewed: June 21, 2011
Review: I watched this because I’d heard it was one of Paul Greengrass’s favorite films and it starred the guy from Jaws. It was fine. But like its chronically overconfident hero (Gene Hackman, marvelous), it fails to bring the house down.
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Writer: Toby Emmerich
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, Shawn Doyle, Noah Emmerich
Viewed: March 12, 2008
Review: As a general rule (and it’s a good rule), I don’t like time-shift movies. But this one was alright as annoying time-shift movies go starring actors who are better modeling their cheekbones than they are convincing you that the plot could actually work.
Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Writers: Jennifer Lee, Hans Christian Andersen, et al.
Stars: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Ciarán Hinds
Viewed: March 18, 2014
Review: So many people have been loving and hating and spazzing and overreacting and let-it-go-ing about Frozen that there’s almost nothing left to say–just a little.
Toby Sumpter writes good stuff about atonement, distorted love, and the great Spring melting a frozen and fallen world: “True Love bore the wrath of God on the tree. True Love shattered Satan’s sword. True Love stood in our place. True Love melts the power of death. And now we watch as the winter dwindles away, and we await the Great Spring to come.” Read the rest of his post. Because he has written it, I shall not.
Gina Luttrell, on the other hand, spouts such silliness about Frozen being the most “progressive” Disney movie ever that it’s hard to believe she actually brought her brain to the theater and even harder to believe my Christian friends got excited about this on Facebook. Let’s refute her two most short-sighted points for a moment. It’ll be worth our while.
1) Way too many people–believers and secularists alike–are arguing the same thing with Gina: that Frozen knocks the decades-old Disney tradition of love at first sight. This is about 75% true.
Yes, Frozen wittily, cogently pushes for discretion, time, and hold-your-horses-manship in matrimonial matters, and I loved it. Elsa’s and Kristoff’s reactions to Anna’s engagement are perfect. The fact that Kristoff and Anna aren’t cuddling by the end is also perfect; after all, they’ve known each other for about 48 hours tops. What isn’t fair about Gina’s argument is the part about the Disney movies we all watched when we were little: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White–the oldies. The simple fact is that these classics (all hingeing around blitz courtships) aren’t literal, real-time tales. They are parables. Pictures. Disney doesn’t argue that a prince in puffed sleeves will discover his bride simply by kissing the first dead girl he sees any more than they argue that birds and squirrels really help you sweep your house. They don’t believe you marry a girl because her feet look good in glass any more than they believe that mice help you make your bed. Disney’s traditional storyline is, rather, a picture of the world, where true love breaks spells, slays dragons, and turns back death itself. Sound familiar? Sound Frozen? Disney’s latest hit simply follows in the tradition of all its best stories to date (love conquers all!) with its own fair share of stuff that would fail if we took it literally (hello…talking snowman).
2) Gina also talks about Elsa’s supposed “self-empowerment”: “When she is finally on her own, she finds beauty in herself. Elsa sings the now Oscar-nominated ‘Let it Go’ upon realizing that she is good enough for herself, and that’s all that really matters.” This is why I really wish Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez had written a reprise for “Let It Go” instead of closely repeating the original at the end. “Let It Go” is a plot point; the movie doesn’t end there. In fact, the rest of the movie bustles around reversing it. The film’s central thrust is that Elsa is not good enough for herself. She lets it go and casts a curse, casts winter, casts frozen. The ice globe reflects her icy heart; what’s inside is finally outside. So…what’s good about this again? This is self that gets saved, not self that gets empowered. So to you girls everywhere making “Let It Go” your life’s theme song–you probably have a sister you need to listen to.
Overall, the movie was just a ton of fun. Norway was gorgeous. Characters were great. The music, stunning, especially the opening chant “Eatnemen Vuelie” (written by Frode Fjellheim and based on a Danish hymn; did you know it also has a Fairest Lord Jesus descant?). I’m a winter person in love with boots and fur and clouds of cold breath, but Frozen is the only movie, ever, that makes me glad the snow finally melts. Way to go, Disney.
Director: David Ayer
Writers: David Ayer
Stars: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal
Viewed: October 19, 2014
Review: War is hell, and the men who wage it are often worse. That’s pretty much the point of Fury. Unless you have the stomach to stick around and look a little closer.
Let’s get complaints out of the way first. Fury didn’t change my life—and it could have and should have. If you’ve seen End of Watch (which I recommend only very carefully), then you know that writer/director David Ayer can shoot a compelling scene; nobody’s questioning his talent for making you feel like you’re there, whether you want to be or not. But Fury’s story is shapeless, uneven, relentlessly unpleasant, and frequently not much worth it, riding as it does on the backs of characters we hardly know and largely dislike.
Sergeant “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) is a cynical, merciless leader who might conceivably take prisoners on occasion, but only so he can personally execute them later. His crew is comprised mostly of foul-mouthed, disillusioned, bickering brutes who, realistically, ought to have blown themselves up by now.
But then comes Norman Ellison.
Norman (Logan Lerman) is more than what he first appears: a jumpy, freshly showered recruit yanked straight off his typewriter. He is, down to his bones, a good man. He resists shooting an unarmed prisoner not because he’s naive, but because he’s just. He refuses to blow holes in dead bodies not because he’s raw, but because he doesn’t want to become like the cold-blooded soldier who orders him to pull the trigger. (As for the prolonged scene in the German house, I wish he had left that girl alone, though even here his conduct is clearly kind and gentlemanly, especially in contrast with his animalistic comrades.)
Norman grows into a good fighter, but he maintains his conscience as he vowed he would at the beginning. It’s Norman whom “Coon-Ass” (aptly named—by far the crassest of the team) calls a good man. It’s Norman who volunteers first to stay behind in a fight he knows they cannot win, sparking a stand-your-ground resolve in the weaker crew.
And it’s Norman who is preserved in the end. Wardaddy, ordering him to escape the tank at the last minute, seems to be telling us that this war—every just war—is fought to protect innocence like Norman’s. Not a duck-your-head-in-the-sand kind of innocence, but a strong-boned virtue that can spare a life, protect a girl, and respond “Here am I; send me” when God calls. Wardaddy has sharpened Norman into a tool of war, but it is Norman who helps the jaded vet remember why they are fighting in the first place.
Fury is an inconsistently talented movie with a consistently talented cast (especially Brad and Logan). It boasts some terrific tank warfare—the only WW2 film ever to use a genuine Tiger I—and runs the gut-wrenching realism launched by Saving Private Ryan further down the field. But what it offers best isn’t war or Wardaddy; it’s a hero who knows not just how to quote God, but how to fight like Him.
As the camera pulls back on the last shot, we see where Norman has chosen his Alamo: on a perfect cross, where the bodies of slain S.S. twist the corners of the four roads into a muddy swastika.