Happy Hour

I saw this one at the Newport Beach Film Festival, which was great fun for me and my wife. This movie, like so many independent films, featured excellent performances, but somewhat mediocre filmcraft. Many of the scenes were poorly lit and some of the editing seemed a bit amateurish. Still, the performances made up for it. Anthony LaPaglia's portrayal of an alcholic writer's downward spiral was tragic but compelling, and Eric Stoltz as his dry-witted sidekick was just right. My complaint about the film is that, even though LaPaglia's character goes through hell, I still feel that a story about a lone genius alcoholic can't help but glamorize alcoholism just a bit. But my wife quite vehemently disagreed with me, so what do I know?

Viewed: 4/16/2004 | Released: 4/9/2003 | Score: B

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Kill Bill: Vol. 2

If the first Kill Bill movie played like a Japanese anime, this installment is more like a Hong Kong kung fu movie. It worked splendidly. Less violent and more character-driven, this film wraps up all of the loose ends of the first one and does so in a characteristically Tarantino way. Say what you want about him, the man is a master of manipulating an audience; parts of the movie had me holding my breath. If the movie has a flaw, I'd have to say it was Uma Thurman. I know other people disagree with me, especially with respect to these films, but I've never seen Thurman forget that she was acting. Even so, the movie is good enough to get around Thurman's performance.

Viewed: 4/15/2004 | Released: 4/15/2004 | Score: A

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The Girl Next Door

The first question I have about this movie is: who did the filmmakers intend to see it? I mean, the plot is a reasonably typical teen story, but the R rating guarantees that it will not bring in many from that age group. The producers had better hope that there will be enough twenty-somethings interested. In any case, despite the fact that the story had some pretty glaring structural flaws and there were details about the movie that bothered me, it still managed to pull out some moments that I really found touching. I think that Emile Hirsch (also of The Emperor's Club) may be one to keep an eye on in the future. All in all, not a great movie, but it made for an entertaining evening.

Viewed: 4/8/2004 | Released: 2/17/2004 | Score: C

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The Ladykillers

I have a feeling that the original version of this film, starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, was absolute fun to watch. This one really wasn't. The Coen brothers are responsible for some great movies, among them one of my all-time favorites (The Big Lebowski), but this one just kind of fell flat. The quirkiness that appears in so many of their films usually works very well, but in this one it just made the movie feel very incongruous with itself. Tom Hanks' character seemed like a bad parody of a 1950's Southern gentleman, while Marlon Wayans' performance was straight out of Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. While there were several parts of the movie that made me laugh out loud, on the whole it just didn't click for me.

Viewed: 3/27/2004 | Released: 3/25/2004 | Score: C

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Jersey Girl

Kevin Smith has made some very good movies. This is not one of them. Even though his films can delve quite deeply into the ridiculous at times, I still find the plots engaging and the dialogue clever. What happened here? The story was a completely pedestrian take on family life versus career, and the two leads, Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler, are two of today's least charismatic actors. Raquel Castro, as Affleck's daughter, was certainly cute, but she brought almost nothing else to a role that could have been very interesting. George Carlin, as Affleck's father, and his sidekicks Stephen Root and Mike Starr had some funny lines, but it wasn't enough to save the film. Still, it had my wife in tears no less than five times, so more sensitive viewers may find more here than I did.

Viewed: 3/25/2004 | Released: 3/25/2004 | Score: D

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Secret Window

Before I say anything else, I do want to note that Johnny Depp continues to impress me as an actor. His performances are so detailed, so quirky; he is a real pleasure to watch. However, even Johnny Depp couldn't make this into a good movie. There's a line in the preview that comes near the end of the film to the effect that the ending is the most important part of a story. In a sense, that's true. The ending has the power to transform the whole rest of the story. That's especially true in the thriller genre, where the climactic scene reveals the mystery that drives the entire plot. So the fact that the ending of Secret Window relies on one of the most tired, clichéd plot devices ever written completely ruins the entire experience for me. In case you still want to see it, I won't ruin it for you but don't say I didn't warn you.

Viewed: 3/20/2004 | Released: 3/11/2004 | Score: D

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Charlie Kaufman may well be America's greatest living screenwriter. In terms of sheer creativity I can think of no one else who even comes close. Really, it's a testament to his talent that people even know his name. After all, you know the actors' and directors' names, but the writers? Despite the fact that Eternal Sunshine was written by Kaufman, I had my doubts, mainly because I couldn't help remembering Jim Carrey's truly awful performance in The Majestic. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. This was Carrey's best dramatic performance, better even than The Truman Show, in my opinion. Either the director or Carrey himself must have worked really hard to reign in his tendency toward ham; whoever is responsible deserves a whole lot of credit. The supporting cast was also great, but the film was really all about Carrey.

Viewed: 3/18/2004 | Released: 3/18/2004 | Score: A

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I Really Shouldn't Have To Say Any Of This

There are certain things that everyone should just know as a member of society. These aren't big, complicated things. You don't need to know how to solve differential equations or write sonnets. Little things. Like knowing how to use cutlery, or remembering to wear pants. It's come to my attention that there is one area that many people seem to think is exempt from these little courtesies: public restrooms. So I'm just going to take this opportunity for a friendly little reminder. Maybe this doesn't apply to you, but you may at least be able to sympathize with my frustration.

First, and I can't stress this enough, flush. Enough said.

Second, wash your hands afterwards. It's good for you, and it's good for the rest of us. There are so many germs that you pick up on your hands throughout the day, especially in the bathroom. Stop spreading them.

When you're done washing your hands and drying them, put your paper towels in the trash. Not on the floor. Not in the drain. Not stuck to the ceiling. In the trash.

Alright, guys, this one is just to you. I know exactly how much work it takes to aim properly, and it's not much. Make the effort. And make sure you're aiming where you're supposed to, i.e. not the floor.

If you happen to clog up the toilet, take responsibility for what you've done and inform the management. Don't leave an out of order toilet for whoever might come along next. It's not their fault. It's yours. Deal with it.

I don't know why some people turn into total slobs when using public facilities. Maybe they don't have to deal with the consequences of their actions, but do they not realize that the rest of us do? The bottom line is: if you wouldn't do it in your own bathroom, don't do it in the public restroom either.

In America

Some of you reading this are going to note the lack of a fourth star and start howling for my blood. Before you grab your nooses and torches and start looking for my address, let me say that I thought this was an excellent film. The performances were universally great, the direction seemed very personal, and the writing was solid. But for some reason it took me a really long time for me to connect with the story. I don't know why--maybe I thought there was a lack of urgency--but for the first half to three quarters of the film I just wasn't into it. But when it hit me, boy did it hit me. The last scene alone would have been enough to make this movie good, but fortunately the rest held up as well. I think maybe I'll like this movie better if I see it again.

Viewed: 3/6/2004 | Released: 4/28/2003 | Score: B

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Starsky &Hutch

Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller make a really great comedy duo. For me they're like this decade's Bing and Bob. Wilson's awkward charm and Stiller's latent rage contrast and balance each other perfectly. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The last episode of the 70's TV series aired when I was less than two months old, so I have no idea if the movie is true to the original, but it made me laugh big belly laughs multiple times, so it gets the thumbs-up from me.

Viewed: 3/5/2004 | Released: 2/25/2004 | Score: B

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