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.

Children of men

Saw Children of Men. See this movie. Very powerful. It gets inside your head in a way few movies do. The visuals—the set dressing, etc—are all an important part of the story and deeply layered, and invite repeat viewings.

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

The Constant Gardener

Saw The Constant Gardener yesterday. Excellent movie. This was a thriller, and felt like the movie that The Interpreter was trying to be, only moreso. Much more sinister, topical, and frighteningly believable plot.

Ralph Fiennes played his usual forlorn, understated character; in this movie his character seemed a little bit disconnected. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not. Excellent cast for the secondary characters, including Bill Nighy (from Sean of the Dead!) as a lubricious foreign-service aristocrat and Pete Postlethwaite as a Big Pharma stooge / relief-worker missionary.

40 year-old virgin

Saw The 40 Year Old Virgin recently. Hilarious. The title gives away the premise, which sounds suspiciously thin, but the story and Steve Carell pull it off. The movie manages to make fun of and sympathize with the eponymous dweeb all at the same time (much the way Galaxy Quest did).

One nitpick (as a friend pointed out) is that Andy Sitzer, Steve Carell’s character, rides a bike, the implication being that bike riding (like everything else Andy does) is juvenile. Feh. Catherine Keener was great as always. The first few movies I saw her in had her protraying a cast-iron bitch of one variety or another; she’s good at that, but I like her as a sympathetic character just as well.

Revenge of the Sith

Yes, I finally saw Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. I wasn’t in a hurry, because I knew A) it would be around for a long time in theaters, and B) it would be bad.

It was bad. Good points: A) Lots of excellent eye-candy–enough to justify sitting through the movie many times over just to catch it, if you’re into that sort of thing; B) No speaking role for Jar-jar Binks.

But the dialogue was so awful that I was rewriting it in my head as the movie went. Darth Vader is made out to be nothing more than a punk-ass whiny kid who gets all Columbine on the galaxy. The whiny schtick actually worked for Hayden Christensen in the only other movie I’ve seen him in, Shattered Glass. Here, no.

It would have been easy to add nuance to the story, to make Anakin Skywalker less annoying, and to make the movie as a whole less disappointing. In fact, it seems as if it would have taken a positive effort to make it as bad as it is. I see that George Lucas has the writing credits. He’s fine with the scissors. Not so good with the pen.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory recently. Like everyone my age, I have strong memories of seeing the first movie–though I read the book, I don’t remember it as well–and I watched this with a critical eye, constantly asking “I wonder why they did it this way?” and so on. It was interesting to observe how some bits of dialog were preserved intact, while large swathes of the movie were completely new.

Like almost any movie where he’s the star, this movie largely revolves around Johnny Depp, and his pallid, quirky character in this movie is a little hard to figure out. I couldn’t quite piece together what he was going for here, but he created an entertaining character nonetheless.

To the extent that it revolves around anything other than Johnny Depp, it’s the macabre-whimsy world that Tim Burton creates, which is a visual playground, as usual.

While both versions of this movie had sharply moralistic themes, this movie was even preachier than the first–the children who misbehave are permanently transformed because of it. Charlie (unlike in the previous movie) does not misbehave at all, and so gets his reward. Willie Wonka develops a new backstory (which is entertaingly told) that creates an excuse for more homilies on the importance of family.

Land of the Dead

Yes, I’m catching up on a backlog of movie-blogging, why do you ask?

I always like a good zombie movie, and I liked Land of the Dead. As always, George Romero works in some social commentary along with his cerbrophagous fun-fest, in this case, about class conflict. What more do you need to know? It’s a zombie movie.


Although we had to go without my friend Drew, who sounded appalled at the very idea of it, we saw Murderball the other night, a documentary about the sport of quad-rugby. This is one of those documentaries that gives you a window into a world you had no idea existed.

The movie followed the American quad-rugby team, which had built up an almost unbeaten track record, for about a year and a half, through international competition in 2003 and at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

The guys are all a bunch of characters. Joe Soares, a former member of the U.S. team who decided to take his trophies up to Canada and become their coach when he got cut, comes off like a towering asshole despite his seated posture. He also looks uncannily like Mussolini. Mark Zupan (of Austin!) seems like a custom-designed ambassador for the sport–heavily tattooed, prickly personality, passionate about what he’s doing. The other guys seem much more laid back, but all of them completely obliterate any impression you might have that guys in wheelchairs want or need to be coddled.

Mysterious Skin

Saw Mysterious Skin recently. Tough movie to watch, but good. I was always under the impression that Gregg Araki’s movies tended to be a little more lightweight, but this was some heavy shit, about young men who had been molested as boys, and how they had grown up. When I see a movie like this (or, say, Bad Education), I wonder how they handle the child actors in these portrayals of shocking acts. It was also interesting to watch, with the part of my brain that maintains detachment, how the scenes were filmed to almost, but not quite, depict the children doing something that children shouldn’t be doing.

There seemed to be something autobiographical behind the story, which makes it all the more sad.

March of the Penguins

Saw March of the Penguins recently. I was vaguely aware of the arduous incubation process for emperor penguins, but this was both educational and absorbing. I didn’t realize how arduous it is, and how much the odds are stacked against successful reproduction.

The narration toned down the harshness–the death–for the benefit of the peanut gallery, but the viewers get the idea.

Also interesting to contemplate was the making of the documentary. How the hell do you sit around in -60° weather, through the monthslong night, to film a bunch of penguins without A) your equipment breaking; B) losing any toes; or C) going insane?

Batman Begins

Saw Batman Begins a few days ago. Although previous movies in the Batman franchise have certainly had their good points (anything with Tim Burton visuals can’t be all bad), this is the first of the lot that I’d say is actually good. This was also the least cartoonish of the lot, by a longshot–very gritty, with an attempt to make the subject seem real.

Lots of action, very energetic and chaotic fight scenes. Very loud. I suspect a sound engineer spent a solid week coming up with the sound of the tank-like batmobile’s engines, which sound more like a lion’s roar than a mechanism. The movie’s also noteworthy in that both Christian Bale and Gary Oldman play good guys for a change.