OK, random mini-reviews from stuff we've seen in the theater or rented since we got here...
Walk the Line - A terrific film with great performances all around, great directing, great cinematography. John Cash was an original punk rocker and "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" may be the best punk rock lyric ever. This film is a fine distilation of his life. However, it cannot go unsaid that there are major similarities between Walk the Line and Ray. Or, perhaps it is more approproriate to say that there are a lot of similarities between the lives of John Cash and Ray Charles: grew up in the south, tough upbringing, death of a brother that impacted their lives, trying to write gospel music, accidentally finding their "sound," being accidentally discovered and somewhat exploited, drugs, drink, women, trouble on the homefront, getting busted, getting clean. Two iconclastic individuals, but all the high points chosen by the screenwriter and director are the same. In terms of look, they are both very dynamic and did a great job of evoking the period and including sincere and realistic performances. Heck, the time periods are even the same. Both films are superb. I come out feeling that Walk the Line is slightly diminished, and that if they were switched, Ray would feel diminished. They're both so good, the seqeunce is all that set's them apart.
Batman Begins - A worthy film and much less self-aware than its Batman predecessors. It seemed a very focused effort. Overall very well done, though I was disappointed that the last fifteen minutes of the film was basically just a rehashing of lines that had been delivered throughout the film, as each and every storyline was neatly closed and the repeated lines gained new and revelatory meaning. Where the older Batman films often seemed like a series of setups to bust out really campy lines, the current approach is to wrap lines around from throughout the story in a bit of transparent and gloating foreshadowing. Well, how clever! I lost a lot of respect for the film as a result. The darker and more serious approach to this film seems more cinematically grounded, but in the sequels that are sure to come will serve to preclude memorable and flamboyant performances on the lines of like Jack Nicholson's Joker. Sadly.
Good Night, and Good Luck - I really enjoyed this tight little film written and directed by George Clooney. It's a highly focused look inside Edward R. Murrow's televised strugle against McCarthy's anti-communism crusade of the 1950's. Or is it? Really, it's a jab at the Bush administration for their nationalistic scare tactics and a reminder that they are nothing new, but dangerous and wrong and something to bravely confront. The word terrorism gets dropped on a number of occassions. No firm sense that its use is historically accurate. Message aside, it's a tense, smoky, jazzy little black and white number shot in shallow focus. It was 90 minutes long, but felt twice as long. It was enjoyable, but perhaps a bit too educational?
Melinda and Melinda - Testament that Woody Allen continues to be Woody Allen, with or without mainstream attention. Here's a film that flew so low under the radar I hadn't heard of it, despite a name cast, and ends up coming out through Fox Searchlight, no doubt passed over for wide release because of its experimental edge. M&M is what starts out as the same story, told twice: once as a tragedy/drama and once as a romantic comedy, simultaneously, with different casts except for the title character. The stories diverge, but stay somewhat connected, and switch back and forth every few minutes, reveling in the norms and cliches of each genre. Neither story would stand on its own (each only has about 45 minutes screen time to develop), but both are admirable, and the premise and the contrasts it brings are quite entertaining. The comedy is easily recognizable as classic Woody Allen, with Will Ferrell in the role Woody would normally fill and with such gusto you'd think SNL was just a paycheck while he secretly coveted this role for years. The drama side had quite an odd tone, at least for Woody. Something like a Merchant/Ivory picture like Le Divorce, but with Mamet-speak dialog. It should be noted that the whole affair is elegantly photographed by the great Vilmos Zsigmond, A.S.C. I loved it.
Yesterday Once More - Where Woody Allen toys with the Romantic Comedy genre, this film is in the thick of it. It's an odd thing that film language cuts so distinctly across the actual language barrier. In style, pace, and look, this film is instantly recognizable as belonging to its genre in every respect. It's a film that I would no doubt spurn if it starred, say, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, but gets a shot for being Chinese. In the respect of its novelty, it was quite enjoyable and entertaining, and had just enough unique Chinese flair and sensability to keep it interesting, despite the largely formulaic presentation. Plotwise it's about an on-again, off-again, pair of thieves, who perhaps resent their own continued attraction and take it out on each other in a series of well-done Spy vs. Spy episodes, sometimes directed at each other, and occasionally teaming up. Generally very well done, but with a perplexing, unbelievable, and out of place twist that made the end less than satisfying.
Finally, I'd like to point out the image, in which Woody Allen attempts to audition for the role of Castro in our upcoming Matter of Chance production. Sorry, Woody, we already have our man.