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Little Miss Sunshine

Film: A+
What the MPAA Rating should be: PG-13 (for language, brief nudity and drug content)

Directed by: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Written by: Michael Arndt
Produced by: Albert Berger, David Friendly, Peter Saraf, Mark Turtletaub and Ron Yerxa
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Alan Arkin, Steve Carell
Studio: Fox Searchlight

Little Miss Sunshine is a short film. It is short and simple - the thousands of contrived complications necessary for Hollywod "family movie" plots do not exist here. The short time we spend watching this movie is short, sweet, beautiful and hilarious. In the tradition of classic comedies, we are driven to laugh by subtle little gestures acted out of a fleshy script by a perfect cast. The Hoovers (Kinnear, Collette, Arkin, Breslin and Dano) have just taken in suicidal Frank (Carell), who is Mom Sheyrl's brother, before they decide to set off on a road trip to a beauty pageant in California that young Olive (Abigail Breslin) has won a spot in. But first, we are treated to a very long scene built entirely around dinner table conversation. We learn about some of the characters. The parents, Sheryl and Richard (Greg Kinnear) - Richard is teaching a completely unsucessful "12 Steps to Greatness" program. Sheryl tells her husband she doesn't smoke but does in private. Teenage Dwayne (Paul Dano) wants to join the Air Force and has taken a vow of silence (he makes his thoughts clear on a little notepad which Frank reads aloud with deadpan hilarity). Edwin (Alan Arkin), Richard's heroin addicted father, who is teaching Olive her dance routine for the pageant. And Olive, who watches videos of Miss California winning the state pageant over and over again, practicing putting her hands over her face just like Miss California does when she wins.

At the dinner table, Olive asks Frank why he tried to kill himself.
"Because I was unhappy..." Frank says ("He's sick, he's a sick man, he's sick in his head!" exclaims Richard, interrupting him).
"Why were you unhappy?"
"I fell in love with someone who didn't love me back. I was very much in love with him."
This registers on Olive's face:
"Him? Him? You fell in love with a boy?"
"Very much so."
"That's silly." Olive says with a victorious smile.

Anyone who can resist this film must have the Tin Man's disease. It is a sun-drenched, exhilarating ride and you may already miss the characters as soon as you walk out of the theater. If we can value films just on their entertainment level, then this should be valued among the hightest.

The Fountain

Film: A+
What the MPAA Rating should be: PG-13 (for language, violence and sexual content)

Directed by: Darren Aronofskty
Written by: Darren Aronofsky
Produced by: Arnon Milchan, Iain Smith and Eric Watson
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Cliff Curtis
Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures

I'll keep the review fairly short. However, let me begin by saying that I was expecting nothing great going into The Fountain. I wasn't even sure if I was going to see it in theaters or wait until DVD. But I had faith in Aronofsky, so I went to see it expecting a "good" movie. How surprised I was. What happened to me for the past two hours makes all other films this year seem infinetely inferior in comparison.

I can't describe the techinical aspects of the film, because it doesn't really do it justice. Let me describe what emotions it awoke in me instead. Watching the film, I felt the outermost layer of my body was a shell, inside of which were my lungs. While my body tried to collapse in on itself, my lungs expanded and sliced easily through my ribcage. And my soul poured along the theater floor like running water and up onto the screen and it was a part of the movie. Aronofsky's visuals, a strange and perfect comination of DOP Matthew Libatique and compser Clint Mansell's heart-bleeding score, had a kind of reverse effect of that scene in The Purple Rose of Cairo where Jeff Daniels steps out of the movie and into the audience. In The Fountain, the screen became a vaccum and the audience stepped into the movie.

I already miss it. I miss the theater and I miss all the crap there was on the floor and I miss the crappy sound quality that was briefly turned off during the trailer to Apocalypto (and what a good choice of a trailer to blank out the sound). I miss Aronofsky, Weisz, Jackman and Burnstyn and I plan to see them again in the near future.

No star rating sums up watching this.

United 93

Film: B
What the MPAA Rating should be: PG-13 (for brief strong language and intense sequences of terror and violence)

Directed by: Paul Greengrass
Written by: Paul Greengrass
Produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Lloyd Levin
Starring: Lewis Alsamari, JJ Johnson, Trish Gates, Polly Adams, Cheyenne Jackson
Studio: Universal Pictures

United 93 is a film, that, in many ways, lives up to the hype that surrounds it. The way writer*/director Paul Greengrass brilliantly recreates a feeling of dread and tension the first third, then panic for the second and finally chaos, terror and confusion for the third. And there's some mourning in there too. It's hard not to be heartbroken watching passenger after passanger call their loved ones and tell them they love them. Some explain - some don't and simply hang up.

The film, as moving as it is as a tribute to the lost, is also itself disturbingly morally lax and racist - in a scene I found repulsive in the beginning where we see the hijakers reading the Koran and hear it imposed over shots of New York City on 9/11 morning - and more scenes contrasting the terrorists reciting their Arabic prayers to the passengers, who are all reciting Christian prayers. The way these scenes are presented are so racist it nearly blots out the artistic achievment in the rest of the movie.

That's right, this is the Birth of a Nation of our New Day and Age. Hopefully we will be wise enough to regard it as so 90 years from now. Some argue: but shouldn't you be focusing on the artistic part of the movie? That's the national debate back and forth and, well, I always thought racist movies kind of subtracted from the "intelligence" factor, no?

So my final analysis:
Suspensful, moving and stupid.

*Although there apparently wasn't really much of a shooting script.

Meet Me in St. Louis

Film: A
What the MPAA Rating should be: G

Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
Written by: Irving Brecher and Fred Finklehoffe
Based on the book by: Sally Benson
Produced by: Arthur Freed
Starring: Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames
Studio: MGM

The film, sappy as I admit it is, is unlike most musicals in there doesn't seem to be a single musical number that is wasted. It had a terrifically witty and Oscar worthy screenplay and some of the most priceless moments in the history of cinema itself. Gorgeously photographed in vibrant color. Judy Garland has an excellent voice. Listening her sing "The Trolley Song" or "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is orgasmic, but the standout moment was a duet of Mary Astor and Leon Ames.

Wonderful performances by (especially) Harry Davenport and Margaret O'Brien. Garland overacts a little at times. Vincente Minnelli's direction is what makes this timeless. Take a scene where everyone at the dinner table is so tense they snap to attention when the patriarch bites into a vegetable. You just have to smile your way through this one. Even when the cliches thrum in they manage to leave an emotional impact worthy of study.

Fight Club

Film: D+
What the MPAA Rating should be: R (for brutal violence, language and some brief nudity)

Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Jim Uhls
Based on the book by: Chuck Palahniuk
Produced by: Ross Grayson Bell, Cean Chaffin, Art Linson and David Britten Prior
Starring: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, Zach Grenier
Studio: 20th Century Fox

*Contains Spoilers!*

After a lot of figuring out, I understood where Fight Club got its cult audience. They were interested mainly in the twist, which is very well pulled off. I was a little surprised by the twist. I think the reason behind this is that if you rewatch the film it makes almost no sense. This confused film is not without the occasional plus, however. It also features three very good performances by Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and especially Helena Bonham Carter. But David Fincher's direction takes this film from one random place to another. Is Edward Norton trying to stop Fight Club at the end and, if so, why does he not care when they succeed? How come an army of fascists train not to obey a single thing he says suddenly releases Helena Bonham Carter? Why are people inspired to join Fight Club after watching Norton beat himself up? How does Norton shoot himself in the head and survive? How does he hear himself having sex with Carter upstairs while making coffee and a second later, pass the room and watch himself having sex? What is the political nature of Fight Club? It starts out socialist "we are the people who do your laundry..." and turns fascist and we never know what exactly they are trying to accomplish. They don't want to hurt anybody, they just want to blow stuff up. Why? Is Fincher encouraging this kind of behavior or discouraging it? Does he think his audience will be able to tell the difference? Throughout the film, bad rock music blares angrily (and annoyingly) and Fincher overdoes the violence and gimmicky special effects.

Fight Club doesn't really have anything to say. It doesn't make sense. It's not particularly interesting or entertaining either and I found myself getting tired of Tyler Durden's fight club. Only when the twist happened did the movie become interesting. But then I immediately realized: don't insane people refuse to accept they are insane? How does Norton even realize he has a split personality? I'd have to consult a psychologist about this, but I don't think it's possible. But Fincher probably doesn't know either - any film where a character can survive shooting himself in the forehead to get rid of his split personality doesn't seem interested in getting caught up in details.

The Thin Red Line

Film: A+
What the MPAA Rating should be: R (for violence and language)

Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Based on the book by: James Jones
Produced by: Robert Michael Geisler, Grant Hill and John Roberdeau
Starring: Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, Nick Nolte
Studio: 20th Century Fox

The Thin Red Line is a film with astounding visuals. It is a film about religion, war and nature and the crossroads where their paths meet. It contains the greatest score I have ever heard composed by Hanz Zimmer and some of the greatest cinematography Iíve ever seen by John Toll. Terrence Malick makes incredibly detailed films, which is why itís a good idea to watch this film many times. Every time you watch it, you pick up a small human detail which may give a historian somewhere an orgasm. The Chinese worker reading the bible in Days of Heaven for instance. Or in The Thin Red Line a young looking soldier reading a letter from home that is pages long (and theyíre double sided!)

The Thin Red Line has an all star cast and perhaps its only flaw is the choice to put John Travolta and George Clooney, among others, in cameo roles that seem distracting. The greatest performance is by Jim Caviezel. We first see him living with another soldier on an island only inhabited by natives. The island is a virtual paradise. We see men casually holding hands, children playing on the beach and swimming deep in the perfect blue water. We see Private Witt (Caviezel) talking to a woman with a baby. He asks if she's afraid of him. She says yes. "Why?" he asks. She tells him he "looks soldier." And we see a sad glint in Cavizel's eyes. Although he is living in paradise, he has lost something he can not take back.

An army boat arrives and it becomes clear that Witt and the other soldier are deserters in WWII. Sean Penn, after capturing them, tells Witt instead of being court-martialed he will become a stretcher bearer for Charlie Company, which is landing at Guadacanal. And the journey to mankind and nature's thin red line between sanity and insanity begins.

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