X-Men: The Last Stand
This movie is definitely an example of an adaptation where familiarity with the source material can diminish your enjoyment. The previous two films made some significant changes to the Marvel canon--most notably the characters' ages and relationships. With that sort of setup, this one could hardly be different--in fact, the changes in this film are arguably even bigger. What was surprising was that although the film's overall storyline departs so radically from Marvel's chronology, some of the details were extremely accurate. For example, the scene at the lake with Cyclops and Jean Grey was directly lifted from the Dark Phoenix saga. In any case, some people will hate the changes and some will love them. As for me, I loved the comics but I also recognize that one of the truly great things about comic book universes is that they allow for real freedom to explore themes. In that respect, I think that even though the issues underlying this film--mutation as a metaphor for race or, perhaps, sexuality--are dealt with in a relatively crude manner, it's possible that films like X3 will be a stepping stone in the growth of speculative films. After all, the X-Men comic itself was also pretty heavy-handed and clumsy in its execution, but it was part of the movement that led to some of the more nuanced graphic novels we have today. As this review is getting rather lengthy, I'll go ahead and rush through the rest: the acting was mostly adequate with a few good moments and a few particularly bad ones, the effects and action were quite good, the dialogue was unsurprisingly mediocre, and the film was, overall, pretty good.
Viewed: 5/26/2006 | Released: 5/25/2006 | Score: B
The Da Vinci Code
As I'm sure you know, Dan Brown's book was a huge bestseller, and more than a little controversial. I'm sure that the same will be true of the movie. The film has already made 77.1 million dollars, and I'm sure that the books popularity will carry it through at least three more weeks of huge box office sales. And it's already generating plenty of controversy buzz--on my way into the theater I was stopped by a guy who tried to give me a pamphlet about the inaccuracies in the film. Personally, I don't think it's all that great a story. I'm just not that into the whole conspiracy theory thing. I will say, though, that it works better in film than it does in print. You see, the main problem with the book was that the writing was mediocre at best. Movies get to avoid awkward prose by just showing you everything that's happening. And much of the acting was also quite good. Paul Bettany, Ian McKellen, and Jean Reno were all very good, which comes as no surprise. Audrey Tautou was OK, although I don't think that her part gave her much to work with. As for Tom Hanks, well, he did a fine job with his performance, but I think he was miscast. The thing is, I'm not sure who would have been better. Nic Cage and Tom Cruise have both done plenty of thrillers, but Cage isn't brainy enough and I haven't liked Cruise in a long time. Dennis Quaid might be another choice, but I don't know if he has the chops to do better than Hanks. George Clooney is too cocky, and Ewan MacGregor is too young (plus I would probably get hung up on his accent). But anyway, I'd say the movie was generally executed pretty well, and if you liked the book you'll like the movie.
Viewed: 5/19/2005 | Released: 4/18/2006 | Score: B
Friends With Money
I walked out of this movie feeling like I didn't really get it. Maybe I'm just a little too stuck in the traditions of American film. You see, normally when you go see a movie like this one, you expect that there will be some sort of crisis for one or more of the characters, things are or will become complicated, and somewhere in the course of the movie the character(s) will grow or change or have some sort of revelatory moment, after which the crisis is resolved. This movie really didn't follow that pattern. It certainly sets things up that way--three of the four "main" characters are at some sort of turning point in their lives--but nobody really changes in any meaningful way. That is, while all of them change their circumstances, there's no real personal discovery for any of them, no admittance of any fault or change in character. What resolution there is seems unsatisfying--to me, at least--because it's either accompanied by a revelation that seems insincere or because it's only accomplished by sheer dumb luck. My guess is that this was intentional on the part of writer-director Nicole Holofcener, that it's a sort of postmodern challenge to traditional film notions, an attempt to make art imitate life a bit more accurately. And in that respect I guess it succeeds--Juliette, especially, found it to be a very truthful story. It was pretty good in the execution as well--the acting and dialogue were very natural, and the pacing, if a bit plodding at times, seemed to fit the rhythms of real life pretty well. I'd say I liked the movie, but I didn't connect with it well enough to give it a fourth star. I had a similar reaction to Holofcener's previous film, Lovely & Amazing, but, despite that, I find her work intriguing enough that I'm curious to see what she's going to do next.
Viewed: 4/28/2006 | Released: 1/28/2006 | Score: 3
A friend of mine with whom I went to see American Dreamz made a comment as we were leaving the theater that I think sums it up pretty well: "That was not a good movie, but there were moments of [sheer] brilliance." I don't see many satires, so it's unusual that I would see two in two weeks. This one certainly suffers in the comparison. It was just too absurd and too heavy-handed to be an effective commentary, and lacking that it can hardly be an effective satire. On the other hand, a lot of the jokes were very funny. The details, especially, were often hilarious. A song lyric here, a TV caption there--in those instances the ridiculousness worked. As a complete film, though, it was just over the top. Writer-director Paul Weitz has done some decent films in the past, but this is definitely not his best work.
Viewed: 4/27/2006 | Released: 3/3/2006 | Score: C