Movie Review Catch-up: Ziplist Edition

Here’s another five-pack of quickie reviews. This time, I’ve selected five movies I’ve watched recently on DVD through Zip.ca. Zip is one of the Netflix alternatives available here in Canada (Netflix is not available in Canada), where for a monthly fee, they mail you DVDs for rental. It’s been a good way to catch up on movies that may have skipped past me in theatres (often this means foreign language or documentary films), or older titles I’ve always thought about seeing, but never remember when it comes time to go to the video store (especially since it’s rare that I walk through the older stacks). I recommend it to DVD (or Blu-Ray) watchers in Canada, and, hey, if you’re interested, let me know. I get membership points when people I refer to Zip become members.
Read on for reviews of:
After the Wedding (2007)
Desert Blue (1998) 
In the Valley of Elah (2007)
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
A New Wave (2007)

I can only imagine how insipid this would be were it an American comedy.

After the Wedding (2007)

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Rolf Lassgård, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Stine Fischer Christensen, Christian Tafdrup

Directed by: Susanne Bier

I had wanted to see this before issuing my Andy Movie Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but sadly, it didn’t show up in the mail until the next day. If it had come earlier, it would’ve scored a nomination. It’s a quietly powerful drama of the celebrating-the-human-spirit variety by way of Denmark, starring the bad guy with the bloody tear ducts from Casino Royale. The excellent cast and emotional plot drew me into the lives of the characters, with enough story to have me guessing at what would come next (even though its not a plot-driven movie). It’s the sort of smart, adult, interpersonal drama that you don’t see much of anymore in American cinema, and when you do, it’s usually insipid and manipulative pablum. Thankfully, that’s not the case here at all, with the film earning all its big emotional moments.

4/5

Starring songs by Rilo Kiley.

Desert Blue (1998) 

Starring: Brendan Sexton III, Kate Hudson, Casey Affleck, John Heard, Christina Ricci, Sara Gilbert, Ethan Suplee, Peter Sarsgaard, Isidra Vega

Directed by: Morgan J. Freeman

A nondescript indie from 1998 that barely anyone has ever seen usually wouldn’t warrant a write-up, even a quickie one like this. I bring it up to illustrate the downside of rental services like Zip. I’d heard of Desert Blue as its soundtrack is home to the super-cute Rilo Kiley song “The Frug”, so when it came up one day on something I was reading on the internet, I decided to added it to my queue (since I was on the internet already). It sat there at the bottom of my queue, but then one day got sent, possibly because I may have been the only member in the entire company to have it on their list. With good reason. It’s a terrible film that’s like every stereotypical post-Sundance indie you can think of, with a meaningless, yet still overwrought plot, shiftless Gen X characters, the requisite indie rock soundtrack, and absolutely no craft. The lesson here is be careful what you put in your queue, since you just might get it.

1/5

If you think the flag on the movie poster isn't subtle, wait til you see what Haggis has in store for the movie.

In the Valley of Elah (2007)

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon, Charlize Theron, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Jason Patric, Frances Fisher

Directed by: Paul Haggis

I saw this right before the Oscars because of Tommy Lee Jones’ Best Actor nomination (without it, I would’ve kept on ignoring it). I wasn’t going to bother reviewing it, but then I wrote a review for Stop-Loss where I discussed why Iraq movies are unpopular (short version: they’re aren’t good enough to make it worth it). So I figured I’d back that up with a discussion of In the Valley of Elah, a movie that was both not as bad as I anticipated and exactly what I expected. The plotting was interesting enough, and the performances strong enough, that it ended up being a decent movie, but it was still brought down by Paul Haggis’ hackery and need to bludgeon the audience with his painful metaphors. I really don’t like Haggis’ work, but his brand of middlebrow “serious” fare disguised as challenging art will probably be enough to keep getting awards attention, making me feel obligated to see them if for no other reason than to complain about their nomination.

3/5

Noir-y!

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini, Michael Badalucco, ,

Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen

Deciding it was time to for me to fill the gaps in my Coen brothers viewing, I added a bunch of their movies to my queue, and this was the first Zip sent me. The Coens have been producing neo-noir films most of their career, so with this one, they decided to go whole hog and do a straight up noir tale. A twisty tale of murder and deception set in stylized 1949 California draped in black and white cinematography and hard-boiled narration, The Man Who Wasn’t There plays more like a genre exercise than a complete movie. As a genre exercise, it’s pretty good, making it a worthy addition to the Coens oeuvre based on style alone. That said, watching it felt more like an intellectual exercise than a truly engaging experience. Still, Roger Deakins cinematography here is simply amazing, and probably does more to establish mood and character than any other element besides the Coens direction. The story may have mostly bored me, but the photography fascinated me.

3/5

Oh Jim, did you really need the work?

A New Wave (2007)

Starring: Andrew Keegan, Lacey Chabert, John Krasinski, Dean Edwards, William Sadler, Caprice Benedetti

Directed by: Jason Carvey

Besides diligently reading my blog and updating your queue accordingly, another way to fill up your list is to take an actor or director you like, and adding movies of theirs that you haven’t seen. But be careful when you do that, or you could end up like my wife, who added this piece of crap due to her oversized crush on John Krasinski. I’m guessing this was filmed several years ago, then released directly to DVD in 2007 to cash in on Krasinski’s rising popularity. Written and directed by first time (and hopefully last time) director Jason Carvey for an estimated $760,000, you’ll watch it and wonder where all the money went (it couldn’t have all gone to Lacey Chabert and William Sadler). It is an unbelievably stupid heist tale about three dumb guys who decide to rob a bank, using information they’ve gleaned from watching movies (and to give you an idea of how long ago I’m guessing this was filmed, the movies they rent are on VHS… and the music they listen to in their car is on cassette). The quality of filming makes you long for something with more visual flair and competency, you know, something along the lines of Clerks. I’m guessing that it was filmed on Super 8, although it’s entirely possible Carvey just used a camcorder. An old camcorder.

This is a bad student film that should have never seen the light of day. The absolute worst element of the production is the framing, which chops off the tops of heads and leaves out important details from the bottom of the frame. I’m guessing what happened is that the movie was originally filmed with a 3:4 ratio, but was converted to 1.85:1 to make it look more cinematic. Either that, or Carvey didn’t actually look through the viewfinder while filming. It made the movie that much more difficult to watch due to distraction, not that any of the content made it worthwhile. I’d say that this contends for the title “Worst Movie I’ve Ever Seen”, except that it’s too minor an effort to bother doing anything with but immediately forgetting. I’m sure there’s tonnes of straight-to-DVD movies out there as bad as this one, but God willing, I’ll never see them.

0.5/5

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3 thoughts on “Movie Review Catch-up: Ziplist Edition

  1. Pingback: Movie Review: Rachel Getting Married (2008) « Critically Speaking

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