Movie Round-Up: January 5, 2004

You all probably know by now that I generally watch a dangerously huge number of movies during any given week. Since I love talking about movies almost as much as I love watching them, I’m going to start collecting my thoughts about the movies I’ve seen and posting them here as a weekly feature.

I won’t be giving these movies a rating in stars like most reviewers do. Instead, if I think you should watch a movie, its title will have a green background. If I think you should avoid it, it’ll get a red background. Nice and simple. I also won’t go into detail about plots or characters, but all of that is available from the IMDB by clicking on a movie’s title.

Now, on to the movies:

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Like most of Stanley Kubrick’s films, Barry Lyndon sets the benchmark for the genre — in this case, the epic period drama. The cinematography is so beautiful I felt like I was watching a painting. Thankfully, the writing, acting, and even the music (which I’ve often found to be lacking in Kubrick’s films) were all top-notch as well, so this movie is no one-trick pony.

Being There (1979)

This movie demonstrates why Peter Sellers was one of the best film actors of all time. His performance is unsettlingly good. While the story seemed a little strained, the solid direction and Sellers’ brilliance make this movie very much worth seeing. At times, I wasn’t sure whether it was trying to be a farce or a more serious political and social satire, but things became clear by the end.

Below (2002)

Much better than I expected it to be. Below is both a good submarine movie and a good supernatural thriller, and it maintains just the right balance of realism and fantasy to make the story fun. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is always a good thing in this sort of movie.

Chopper (2000)

Gritty and violent, but with the sort of twisted humor that’ll appeal to you if you liked Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. The biggest surprise about this movie was Eric Bana’s excellent performance.

CQ (2001)

Hilarious. Manages to spoof campy sixties sci-fi while satirizing the film industry and even sneaking a few touching moments into the cynicism. Jeremy Davies and Jason Schwartzman need to be in more movies, dammit. Roman Coppola’s direction has solidified my belief that the Coppola family must have some kind of genetic trait that makes them all good directors.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

I still haven’t read the books, but hopefully they’re better than this movie was. The story seemed to be one big long introduction to the characters and the world, with a hastily cobbled-together conflict arising just in time to make the movie uncomfortably long. Chris Columbus’s uninspired direction didn’t help, nor did the painfully overdone special effects, which stuck out like a sore thumb. Even the score was annoying; it seemed like John Williams was being too John Williamsish, if that makes any sense. I guess what hurts worse than anything is that there’s this constant undercurrent of potential greatness, but it never quite makes it to the surface.

Last Night (1998)

Ouch. This was painful to watch. Not just because of the obviously low budget and the fact that it’s only available in pan & scan, but because the plot plods along and seems to do its best to defy your attempts to guess where it’ll go next, while falling too often into silly sentimentality and angsty, unconvincing philosophizing. It’s not all bad, though. Sarah Polley has a minor role, and any movie with Sarah Polley in it can’t be all bad.

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

The Coen brothers have never made a movie I didn’t like. This one’s no exception. It’s got the trademark twisted Coen humor, the quirky characters, and above all the incredible visual style. This is the most beautifully-shot black and white movie I’ve ever seen, which I feel a little silly saying, since it was actually shot in color.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Wow. This movie was brilliant. I ignored all the fuss about this one when it came out, but now I wish I hadn’t. I’m generally not a big fan of musicals, but this was something on an entirely different level. Instead of being annoyed every time someone broke into song, I found myself being annoyed when someone failed to break into song. This is the most visually and aurally pleasing movie I’ve seen in years. Watch it. Watch it now.

Stranded (2002)

Do not watch this movie. I don’t care if you think you like bad sci-fi. This isn’t just bad sci-fi. This is bad on so many levels it’s not even worth watching to laugh at how bad it is. The only good thing about this movie is that most people have never heard of it, and hopefully it will stay that way. When clouds are clearly visible in almost every single external shot of a movie that’s set on Mars, you know the filmmakers just don’t give a shit. If I thought I could do it without getting caught, I’d kill every actor in this movie and then beat the writer and director to death with their bloody corpses. For the love of God, do not watch this movie. If you want a good bad movie about Mars, watch Mission to Mars, Red Planet, or even Robinson Crusoe on Mars.