Sunday, December 21, 2008

Netflix Quick Picks - Round Eleven

It's been a while since round ten. My new job keeps me so busy I have little time for movies! But with TV going on holiday hiatus, it's time to catch up with the rentals...

1. Gangs of New York - Similar themes as The Departed with DiCaprio and Scorcese depicting deception and betrayal--only this time in 1800s New York City. If it were between this and The Departed, I'd have given Scorcese the Oscar for Gangs of New York. I'd have given Daniel Day-Lewis the Academy Award for his portrayal of Bill "the Butcher" Poole in this film over the one he was awarded for There Will Be Blood as well. Cameron Diaz was the only weak link, although much improved over her last period foray in From Hell. I say RENT IT!

2. Everything is Illuminated - Directed by Liev Schreiber, Elijah Wood stars Jonathan Froer, a Jewish collector of memorabilia and personal artifacts who seeks the woman who saved his grandfather when the Ukraine was invaded by the Nazis. But the real star of the film is Eugene Hutz who plays Froer's translator Alex. With his stilted broken English and Tony Manero-esque mannerisms, Alex could have ended up being an over-the-top caricature but Hutz infuses him with so much humor and humanity that you can't help but adore him. Rent it!

3. Eagle vs. Shark - This quirky New Zealand romantic comedy stars Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame. Unfortunately that's not enough to recommend it. Loren Holsey is lovely as the lovestruck Lily, but the film tries too hard to be offbeat and weird and meanders aimlessly in search of a story. Skip it.

4. A Good Woman - Is a bad movie. Helen Hunt is bad. Scarlett Johansson is bad. The life and lilt of this tale based on an Oscar Wilde play is completely sucked out of the story. With the exception of Tom Wilkinson who is completely charming as the winning and winsome Tuppy, this is a bland and banal costume drama devoid of any character. Skip it.

5. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - Stellar cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney) directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet. It's a downer of a story filled with unlikable characters doing unspeakable things. If you like dark and downbeat, go for it.

But don't say I didn't warn ya...

6. The King of Comedy - Basically this is Taxi Driver all over again. Maybe a bit lighter and more satirical... Robert De Niro plays aspiring comic Travis Bickle (I mean Rupert Pupkin...) who is obsessed with Jodie Foster (make that Jerry Lewis) and tangentially involved with an icy blonde (Shelley Hack standing in for Cybill Shepherd in this case...). Same talking to self in the mirror scenes, same delusions of grandeur. It's a good movie--I'd just already seen it all before...

7. The Iron Giant - Although the film features Vin Diesel voicing the title characer, his trademark gravelly growl is synthesized to render it unrecognizable. Still, it's a clever little morality tale that's worth a look. Rent it.

8. Hard Eight - This early Paul Thomas Anderson film showcases the themes and characters that would come to be staple signatures in future films. Including Philip Baker Hall and Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson (what is it with the three names or two plus middle initial anyway?!!!) who would pop up again and again in later works. It's a great character study, but I felt like the delivery was a bit flat. Philip Baker Hall is a charismatic enigma, but overall stretched too thin to hold the story together. Skip it.

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