Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

dir. Marc Forster
Viewed on 2007-02-27
Rating: 6.5

Somewhere in the middle of watching this movie I wondered, "What would Charlie Kaufman have done with this story idea?" For one, I think Will Ferrell's character Harold Crick, a metronomic IRS auditor, might have gone a little crazier when he starts hearing novelist Kay Eiffel's (Emma Thompson's) voice in his head, narrating his life and announcing his impending death. Harold is already obsessive-compulsive, so it was hard to believe that he wouldn't have gone a little more off the deep end. Granted, it's more than justifiable that Harold acts the way he does because he's under the control of Eiffel's story. Still, I'd like to think Kaufman would've invented some way to introduce doubt into the whole premise of this movie, perhaps by making us wonder whether Harold was dreaming/hallucinating. Or maybe it would be Eiffel's hallucinations about one of her characters thinking he's real and hallucinating about an omniscient "author" controlling his life. Or maybe... well, you get the drift.

What I'm getting at is, the story was a good idea, especially for a romantic comedy, but it wasn't as ambitious as its premise allowed. Nevertheless, the movie is worth a look, and makes some interesting, if heavy-handed, points about art and sacrifice, and about facing death.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Factotum (2006)

dir. Bent Hamer
Viewed on: 2007-02-25
Rating: 7

I haven't read the Charles Bukowski novel on which this movie was based (nor any Bukowski, for that matter), so I don't have a basis for comparison there. What I did keep thinking about, though, was The Big Lebowski, and how Matt Dillon's character in Factotum is like a more real (or less absurd) version of the Dude. Both are extraordinarily unambitious L.A. low-lifes, but also, somehow, as extreme examples of losers they are able to reveal the farcical side of life and highlight the loser-ness in everyone they meet.

Anyway, I liked Factotum, and Matt Dillon was excellent, but I can't say I'll be thinking about it a few days from now. It starts out as a fairly hilarious and bleak comic meditation on existence, but eventually seems to lose some of its sense of humor, and in the process, its insightfulness. Or maybe I was just wishing I was watching the Dude instead.

Le Samouraï (1967)

dir. by Jean-Pierre Melville
Viewed on 2007-02-24
Rating: 8.5

A seriously good gangster movie in which the main character, Jef Costello, is a hit-man trying to evade police suspicion and his own bosses after killing a night club owner his bosses paid him to off. Despite the title, it bears little resemblance to a samurai film, apart from the the very few gunshot sequences which are lightning-quick like some samurai fight scenes where you barely see the flash of a blade just before someone keels over, mortally wounded. The set-up is more of a neo-noir thriller. The title really refers to Jef's life of solitude and the way he seems to adhere to a certain code of honor in his job as assassin. "There is no solitude greater than a samurai's, unless it is that of a tiger in the jungle... perhaps," says a quotation at the beginning of the film. To discuss more of the plot here would be to give away too much. Suffice it to say, I especially loved the opening scene of Jef stealing a car--paralleled near the film's end--the ending itself, and a scene where Jef tries to elude his police tails on the Paris Metro. For a movie with almost no dialog, the acting and directing really have to carry it, and they do.

This was the first film by Jean-Pierre Melville I've seen. Honestly (shamefully?), I had never heard of him before watching Le Samouraï. Now I have a lot to look forward to: it turns out he made other movies!

Saturday, February 24, 2007


This is a log of the films I watch, whether in theaters, at home, or somewhere else. Each entry will have a rating on a scale of 1 to 10* and a brief bit of commentary to explain the rating. Occasionally I might write in-depth reviews or analyses of a film, or even essays about multiple films or a particular film topic. But that will be the fairly rare exception. I have no particular schooling or expertise in moviemaking or film criticism. I just like watching movies, and seem to watch quite a few of them.

--Brian, filmaloguer

*Here is an intentionally unreliable explanation of the rating scale--that is, ratings are more relative to the movie itself and others like it, rather than to some master list's ranking of every film ever. Roger Ebert's star ratings sort of work this way, but as I believe he describes it to readers who would question his consistency, it's a rating of how well the film lives up to what it tries to achieve. So 3 stars for one movie is not the same as 3 stars for another. I think that's kind of a cop out--it allows him to get away with rating "Tomb Raider" (a pure popcorn movie) the same as "Fellowship of the Ring" (maybe a popcorn movie in part, but regardless of whether it lived up to expectations, it at least sought to do new or at least more ambitious things). To avoid Ebert-style weaseling (don't get me wrong, I think he's good), my "system" will instead award a little extra credit to the films that may not hit the nail on the head, but at least strive for something new or better than those that are essentially meant for mass entertainment. I realize this is still vague, so I will plan to justify ratings on a case by case basis.