My life and the world around me

Category: movies (Page 1 of 12)


Wall-E is a love story about a trash compactor. Somehow Pixar makes this into a beautiful and affecting movie. I don’t know how they do it. Highly recommended.

It’s interesting that the robots, despite having barely comprehensible speech, are fully realized characters unlike the humans, who are just placeholders.

The Unforeseen

Saw The Unforeseen over the weekend. Despite its flaws, this movie should be mandatory viewing for Austinites.

Austin inspires a strong affection in its citizens, whose pride in the city can sometimes grate on residents of other Texas cities (then again, they’re probably just envious). That, coupled with the long, rapid growth that this city has seen, has led to the widespread nostalgia for how much better the city used to be that is the badge of its citizens and a ready topic of conversation.

The attachment Austinites have for their city, and awareness of its rapid growth, projects forward in time as well as backward. Austinites seem unusually concerned with the shape their city will take. Development is the central political issue in the city. Especially as it affects the environment, and most especially as it affects Barton Springs.

The movie The Unforeseen takes Barton Springs as the nexus for all these issues and dives in.

The movie rolls back the clock to roughly 1970, when Gary Bradley, the developer of Circle C and Barton Creek, came to town. The filmmakers spent a lot of time interviewing Bradley, and it was interesting how they humanized one of the leading demons of Austin progressives. Bradley made the interesting observation that when planning out a development, the only problem he couldn’t fix was access to water. The filmmakers also showed how, right from the beginning, there was strong opposition to these developments—how there was already proto-nostalgia forming.

It also goes into the hydrology of the area—this was one of the most important parts of the movie, and one that really deserved to be expanded. Simply getting to see the interior of the Edwards Aquifer was worth the price of admission—the aquifer was always an abstraction to me. Now it’s a place. Key fact: city hydrologists tested the speed that water flows through the aquifer to the Springs. From 20 miles upstream, it took three days for water to exit at the Springs. Not enough time for significant filtration to occur. The pollution entering the aquifer comes right back out. Underwater footage taken at the Springs in 1994 and 2004 illustrates this fact: water that was once clear is now cloudy.

The movie closes on Hutto, a town to Austin’s northeast that I last saw back in college Back then, it was a small farming community. Today, lots for 11,000 houses have been platted there, and the mayor readily admits that he doesn’t know where they’re going to get the water. Aerial footage of cookie-cutter housing developments butting up against the few remaining farms was enough to get me choked up.

The main flaw in the movie is its ham-fisted sentimentality and preachiness. The facts and the record speak powerfully enough. Cutting away to stock footage of a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis and children frolicking is just whacking the audience upside the head.

A minor flaw is the title. The movie makes very clear that none of this was unforeseen.

The Good Shepherd

Saw The Good Shepherd recently. Interesting but flawed movie.


  • It’s long. Really long. At 165 minutes, it can only be considered self-indulgently long (it’s been a pet project of De Niro’s for a decade). And it’s not exactly as if every one of those minutes is action-packed.
  • Matt Damon plays the part of Edward Wilson, a buttoned-down CIA man (a fictionalized version of the actual James Jesus Angleton), but his portrayal is so buttoned-down that it’s hard for the audience to get inside his head at all. Why does he join the CIA? Why does he do anything? He’s a cipher.

Still, there are worse ways to spend a cold and rainy afternoon.

The movie covers the life of Wilson from college through middle age, and it’s amusing to note that boy-faced Matt Damon looks the same throughout the movie, but Angelina Jolie, who plays his wife, has obviously been made up (or digitally rejuvenated in post) to look young in college-age scenes—when she first appeared on-screen, I was surprised—“that sounds like Angelina Jolie, and it looks like a younger version of her, but that’s not her.”

Casino Royale

If you thought the old Casino Royale was an anti-Bond movie, you’re right. But in its own way, the new Casino Royale, made by the “official” James Bond movie-production company, is almost as much an anti-Bond movie. On balance, it is much better for it. It throws away many of the conventions of typical Bond movies.

The opening credits are especially fun to watch, despite the absence of scantily-clad women, and the classic Bond theme is completely absent until the closing credits. Improbable gadgets are generally missing, and Q is on holiday. Admittedly, the cellphones all have screens with HDTV-like resolution, and Bond does have a defibrillator that’s about the size of a paperback book, but other than that, there’s very little technology that’s beyond what’s available today, with a little bit of movie gloss—Bond is using cinematic versions of Google Earth, GPS, etc. Mostly, I suspect, this is because everyday technology has come so far, and is so pervasive that people might be less willing to suspend disbelief on anything that pushes today’s limits too hard.

Bond’s main talent in this movie is his ability to tolerate repeated and severe ass-kickings. The bad guys in this movie are all really tough, even the anonymous ones. In a typical Bond movie, 007 will quickly and easily punch out random thugs and send them packing with lines like “the little fish I throw back.” Not here. The bad guys higher up the totem pole are not trying to take over the world or ransom the UN for the sum of (pinky to lip) one million dollars, they’re just trying to make a profit as it self-destructs.

This movie is also unusually talky for a Bond movie, necessary to show him developing a relationship, which is also unusual.

While I liked it overall, the movie did have some problems. The first reel or so feels like a series of disconnected events. They aren’t—there is a connection between them—but something in the storytelling doesn’t quite establish that strongly enough. You have to pay attention to the low-energy scenes (while you catch your breath after the high-energy ones) to keep things straight. Some implausibilities are explained after the fact with throwaway lines.

Overall, though, I like it as a movie on its own merits, and as a Bond movie. It’s a curious thing that, with any kind of franchise movie, one tends to evaluate it in terms of how it relates to other pictures in the franchise, not just as a standalone piece.


I could have easily missed MirrorMask if I hadn’t been trolling through the Chron’s review section, and I’m glad I didn’t. I only know Neil Gaiman’s work by reputation, which is very strong, so when I did notice this, I was eager to check it out.

Despite starting off at a circus, the movie’s opening is surprisingly drab. It quickly settles down into the visually imaginative dreamscape I was vaguely expecting–though I’d have no way to really expect what I did see, it being altogether fantastical. At its core, the movie turns out to be a fairly conventional coming-of-age story. But it’s the visuals that make it very much worth seeing.

Good night and good luck

Saw Good Night and Good Luck recently. Excellent movie. Beautiful to look at in black and white, the story is taut and told in punctuated chunks, interspersed with old kinescope footage; all together, it gives an interesting look into the ways life was different about fifty years ago. Appropriate to its subject matter, it has a sort of eyewitness, journalistic quality. George Clooney is clearly more than a pretty-boy actor, and while David Strathairn makes a believable Murrow, Clooney is a hell of a stretch for Fred Friendly.

The movie is not remotely subtle about the messages it is laying out–there are several–but they are messages that are worth telling.

It was especially interesting seeing the movie at this exact moment in history, when a right-wing government that is suspicious of its own citizens is just beginning to fall into disarray.

the Corpse Bride

Saw the Corpse Bride yesterday. I can’t remember the last time I saw two claymation movies in a row, and both this and the Wallace and Gromit movie had Helena Bonham Carter as voice talent. Weird.

I have to say, it’s pretty amazing what they can do with a few lumps of clay. These characters were more emotionally stirring than many of their flesh-and-blood counterparts, and managed the neat trick of making the dead seem charming (and much more lively and colorful than the washed-out living Victorians), something that would be impossible with live-action. The quality of the animation was also astonishing, and apparently achieved through unprecedented meticulousness. It occurred to me partway through that the whole thing could have been done as computer animation, and indeed, it wouldn’t be a bad use for CGI, which has gotten good enough to have entered the “uncanny valley” when rendering humans, but should be more than up to task rendering caricatured claymation characters. Still, I can imagine some subtleties would be lost along the way, and for all I know, it wouldn’t save any time.

Almost all Tim Burton movies have a fairy-tale quality to them. This is no exception, but what is different is that it is apparently based on an existing folk tale


Saw Serenity with Gwen yesterday. I’m a fan of the original TV series “Firefly” (though I only became one after it was cancelled), so it’s impossible for me to know how the movie plays to a newcomer audience. It’s also impossible for me to discuss the movie without spoilers, so this will continue after the jump
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