In case anyone was wondering, Armageddon is still a bad movie. I remembered 2 things about it from the first time I watched it when I was 11 years old that are still true:

1. Animal crackers aren't sexy.
2. How the hell am I supposed to know what is going on if you keep editing your movie into oblivion?

I'd like to dwell on number 2. I don't think there is a shot that takes longer than 3 seconds in this entire movie. It's like the editor had ADD and couldn't allow the audience to a) know what was going on, b) allow the actors to act, or c) allow any emotional connection to the film other than what the characters tell us they feel.

Maybe I just have a preference for longer shots and patient movies, but this movie was terrible. I actually fell asleep at the end. The pace didn't add intensity as much as offered a calming pace to the whole movie: face. line. slow-mo coffee cup. orange suit. explosion. line. Billy Bob Thornton. line. That guy whose in everything. helmet. Ben Affleck. Bruce Willis. metal debris. line. Isn't Liv Tyler pretty?. static on screen. line. sweat. cosmonaut. line. explosion. explosion from another angle. explosion from another angle. Aerosmith.

There. I just summarized the whole movie.

The friend I was watching this with was balling by the end, but it takes a lot for me to cry in a movie. One thing it takes is actual character development. As far as action movies go, this had even less than usual and I blame it on the editing. We couldn't see an expression on the face change, hear a voice falter, or watch body language show defeat. We were mostly told what the characters felt, which is the laziest film making of all. It's the equivalent of a story written by an 8-year-old.

So, thanks Armageddon. You're a lazy summer blockbuster that made way for a mid-afternoon nap.


Movies 2007

I watch a lot of movies, but most of them aren't recent. So, I made a few lists comprising of my favorites , honorable mentions, and the most awesomely bad films that could be from any year, as long as I watched them in 2007.

The following are my favorite that I watched this past year*. This started out as a "best of" list, but it ended up being just my favorites. So these are the most engaging, well made, or endearing movies I watched last year** with a little commentary:
  1. Behind the Sun (2001) - This is a great Brazilian film that explores the honor culture within the lives a poor farming family. It's a patient, beautifully shot film that utilizes visual cues to emphasize its theme. This is film at its finest.
  2. Requiem for a Dream (2000) - This one gets hard to watch, but is brilliantly done. The craziness that comes with drug addiction is tracked well with this film with color, frenetic camera techniques, and editing. Again, it uses the art of film to its fullest.
  3. No Country for Old Men (2007) - Simplicity stands out in this movie. Hardly any soundtrack is used, leaving just environmental sounds to pop and also making the film more real. The camera observes more than it moves letting the viewer focus on faces and reactions. This is a well crafted movie.
  4. 12 Angry Men (1957) - You hardly ever see acting as good as in this movie. It's 12 jurors debating a trial in a room. Only the beginning and end take place outside of the hot deliberation room; it's a feat in acting that the film remains entirely engaging.
  5. Cinema Paradiso (1988) - Simply put, this movie is adorable. It's a coming of age story, a nostalgic look to the past, and a celebration of film. Also, the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is absolutely gorgeous.
  6. Juno (2007) - Rarely do I see characters that I feel like I would be friends with in film. And maybe in this case Juno would be way too cool to be my friend, but I love her style. I think this movie captures high school-aged teenagers better than most movies.
  7. Junebug (2005) - I heard a lot of good things about this movie before I ever saw it, and it lived up to expectations. I grew up in the suburbs of the Pacific Northwest, but my family was church-going people, so a lot of this film was familiar despite taking place in a small town in the South. The very real relationships make this movie great to watch.
  8. What's Up, Doc? (1972) - One of the funniest movies I've ever seen. I usually don't like slapstick or even straight up comedies that much, but this one is great. Barbra Streisand works in this setting and Ryan O'Neal is hilariously straight-lace. The comedic pairings and timing are well done here.
  9. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) - I went through all of Wes Anderson's films (sans The Darjeeling Limited) and this was the only one that I really enjoyed. It's just self-conscious enough to add quirk, but not to overtake the story. I just really liked the characters in the movie.
  10. Baran (2001) - Majid Majidi makes beautifully simple films. This one has a love story of sorts. It shows a young man falling in love for the first time; the love is more of a crush from afar, but an experience most people have had. I love Majidi's patience in his filmmaking, and this movie is no exception.
  11. Some Like It Hot (1959) - So funny. I never knew a film made in 1959 could be so dirty (thank you double entendre). Cross-dressing galore, hijinks ensue, actually manages to transcend painful into hilarious.
  12. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) - I can now say I've seen it. Marlon Brando it so masculine and working-class fabulous in this movie. I don't know much about acting technique, but the contrast between Brando and Vivian Leigh is exciting to watch. Another acting heavy movie that is entirely engaging.
  13. Gladiator (2000) - I finally saw it! And it was actually good! Mostly because Joaquin Phoenix is great.
  14. Across the Universe (2007) - I have my criticisms about this movie, but the music was great (except the drug-tripping middle of the film--"I am the Walrus" will never be good). It's hard to go wrong when you use the Beatles as inspiration and some of the songs are fantastic renditions.
  15. The Jane Austen Book Club (2007) - This is definitely a chick flick, but a good one. I love Jane Austen, Amy Brenneman, and Hugh Dancy so the combination of all of them resulted in me loving this movie. It's pretty unsuspecting and kind of fluffy, but you don't feel dumber afterward.
  16. Bourne Ultimatum (2007) - It's just an entertaining 2 hours that didn't make me want to shoot myself (I'm looking at you, all the other 3rd sequels that came out this summer).
  17. Bicycle Thieves (1948) - The faces in this movie kill me. They're heartbreaking and lovely all at the same time. A poor Italian man has a bike stolen, so he and his son try to hunt it down. A very moving story.
  18. Man in the Moon (1991) - Little Reese Witherspoon in a coming-of-age-in-the-South movie. It's cheesy to be sure, but this is the great innocent cheese that maybe makes you a little misty-eyed.

The following are honorable mentions, that maybe weren't my favorite, but still stuck with me:
  • The Nun's Story (1959) - Audrey Hepburn in a very somber role. She's one of my favorite actresses because she chose interesting roles. You would never find a film like this made these days--it's a movie that doesn't focus on sexuality or man-hating, which is surprisingly rare in women centered film these days.
  • In the Land of Women (2007) - It reminded me of In Good Company: a lost man in his mid-twenties learning how to grow up. It was entertaining and didn't try to make something magnificent out of it's weak plot. It was just pretty good.
  • Becket (1964) - Fantastic acting! I love Peter O'Toole. He wreaks charisma, even when he's totally dislikable. It's a long movie, but O'Toole's performance is worth it.
  • The Innocents (1961) - A ghost story that was quite creepy, maybe because it was in black and white. There are some fantastic surreal moments that are very eerie.
  • Shakespeare in Love (1998) - A decent romance. It was pretty funny, but what stuck with me was that Joseph Fiennes is absolutely gorgeous. And Ben Affleck is in it. Who remembered that?
  • 28 Days (2000) - I love Sandra Bullock. Most of her movies are respectably mediocre, and this one fits in there. It's about drug rehab, but contains an ensemble of quirky patients that make you smile, Bullock included.
  • You Can Count on Me (2000) - I love Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney. This movie all about them, as siblings, trying to cope together. It's a great family relationships movie.
  • A Hard Day's Night (1964) - This is, in my opinion, the better of the Beatles movies. This one has a less forced plot that allows the Beatles to perform their songs basically at random. Plus, you get to see that the group has great comedic timing, George Harrison being the funniest.
The following awesomely bad movies were great to mock, or just to embrace:
  • The Saint (1997) - Val Kilmer, really bad disguises, and even worse accents. Awesome.
  • Oliver! (1968) - So long! And the title character was awful, but Fagin makes up for it in his Jewishness. Plus, it features Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes who would play a creep years later in Tommy.
  • Tommy (1975) - The Who's rock opera that's good to listen to, utterly frightening to watch. Oliver Reed once again.
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band (1978) - The bad things that can happen when using the Beatles as inspiration, although some of the musical number are pretty great. Plus, when will you ever see the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton star in a film together again?
  • Step Up (2006) - Dance movie! Channing Tatum being muscle-y.
  • She's the Man (2006) - Cross dressing movie! Amanda Bynes still sucked, but kind of entertainingly instead of painfully! Channing Tatum being muscle-y.
  • Heart and Souls (1993) - I can't believe I've never seen this movie before. It's really great because Robert Downey Jr. is always great. It's really bad because it involves spirits, limbo, and Elisabeth Shue (who was also in the Saint, surprise, surprise).
  • Somewhere in Time (1980) - I can't believe how weak the time traveling soul mates plot is. It makes even less sense than the Lake House, which means it's great.

*Note: I excluded Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth from the lists because they came out really early in the year, already won some awards, and everybody already knows they're good.

**A second note: I want to thank BYU International Cinema for existing and giving me access to a lot of really awesome foreign and older films that I can watch for free.


Catching up with TV in 2007

I enjoy TV a lot. I love having something to look forward to in the week. Just knowing a new episode is coming instantly makes a day brighter. Maybe I should put more stock in actual human interaction, but TV doesn't expect anything in return. This year I caught up with quite a few shows in DVD form or on the internet. It's not as exciting as a once a week show since you can watch a new episode anytime, but it's still a good way to waste some time.

Ugly Betty was one I caught up with towards the end of its first season. It's about an"ugly" lower-middle class Betty, who takes a job at a high class fashion magazine. Almost all the characters in the office are caricatures with few redeeming qualities, but that have just enough humanity to make you care. The family and few friends Betty makes in the office actually do have redeeming qualities but have just enough caricature to make you laugh. The show exploits all cliches from the rich vs. poor, to ambitious and heartless career women, to soap opera drama (comas, transsexuals, and so many secrets).

The first season was excellently executed; its second is a wearing a little thin, but still manages to be entertaining. I would really only recommend it to people who relish in how awful most pop culture is and love it anyway. It is a conglomeration of everything that makes up American pop culture today from its dramedy format to its reflection of America's obsessions. I was very young in the early 90s, but I recall fashion being very cool and kind of respected, or at least as respected as fashion can be. Fashion has taken a turn for the camp: you can track it with each subsequent season of America's Next Top Model. Ugly Betty's camp and drama fit right into the self-awareness that the 2000s have brought to popular culture (primary blame can be placed on VH1 and its I Love the... and several "celebreality" series). The show also uses the being-different-and-maybe-a-little-fat-and-ugly- is-okay that seems to have started to crop up big time in the 90s (think My So-Called Life and The Practice's Camryn Manheim). Also, the fact that its based on a telenovela and features a cast filled with latino actors proves that it is a thoroughly modern show representing the largest minority population in America. I guess my point is the show is so early 2000s. If you love that, you'd probably enjoy this show.

I also started to watch TBS's My Boys. I remember all the advertising for the show when it first started to air, but it wasn't until a bored summer's evening that I sat down and watched an episode and thoroughly enjoyed it. I credit that to Jim Gaffigan's presence on the show and the fact that I'm a lot like the main character sometimes. This caused me to check out the series from the beginning online and get won over by the chemistry between the cast. It's not particularly original (a group of friends who hangs out in a bar and at weekly poker games), but it's just different enough to distance itself from being a Friends ripoff. This sitcom features PJ, a woman in her late 20s, who mostly hangs out with a group a guys (including her brother played by the wonderful Jim Gaffigan) and works as a sportswriter in Chicago. There are a lot of almost hook-ups with the guys and the token girlfriend who tries to make PJ more girly which could be characterized as cliche, but the execution is hilarious. I credit this to the cast's interactions.

My favorite episode centers around the fact that one of the guys, Brenden, is included on a Chicago's hottest bachelors list that skyrockets him to quasi-rock star status and turns him into a douchebag. The rest of the gang decides to have a douchebag intervention to save their friend. Honestly, I have never heard the word douchebag so many times in a half hour, but nor have I heard it used so creatively. I know I'm not doing this any justice. Trust me when I say it is hilarious. If you give this show a chance, it grows on you and you begin to love it. Sometimes My Boys gets a little schmaltzy, but there are worst things than leaving a TV show with a smile on your face.

Another sitcom also caught my attention, and I give snaps to Pajiba's Dustin Rowles for convincing me to watch it in his loving review of How I Met Your Mother. There's not much I can add to his ode, except to say, it's way funnier than Friends. I'll qualify that by saying I never did like Friends based on my prejudice against things that are "too popular" (you can include Titanic, Grey's Anatomy, and Ugg Boots into that category as well). But How I Met Your Mother is just under the radar enough that I feel okay about liking it. Like all sitcoms, it has to grow on you before you give your heart and soul over to it. Give it a shot.

This Christmas my sister converted me to the fan base of Flight of the Conchords. I had seen some of their stage show online and thought they were pretty funny, but never been exposed to their HBO series. The television show isn't everyone's cup of tea, but for anyone who enjoys drier, British-like humor and silly songs, they'll probably enjoy this show. It's about a two-man band from New Zealand trying to make it in the States. At least twice an episode we're graced with a musical numbers that usually involve a fantastic music video. A favorite of mine is "Inner City Pressure" that sound of 80s talking songs (think "Bangkok, oriental city...") and the look of very serious 80s social awareness. It's a show that grows on you, mostly through the music, but the stars, Bret and Jemaine, also start to grow on you as you notice their weird quirks within their non-acting/Jerry Seinfeld acting style. The humor is based on awkwardness and just plain absurdity. Really, I'm a child of the Weird Al era, so I love funny songs, and that's what makes the show great.

The last show I'm going to talk about is the best, not just of what I've seen this year, but possibly of all time. The West Wing is amazing. It's really that simple. Aaron Sorkin is a genius, and the actors that put his words into action do it brilliantly. In a time where politics are so cynical, Sorkin created a show that is hopeful, inspirational, and patriotic. As cheesy as it sounds, it's done in all seriousness and without triggering gag reflexes. Usually we're fed stuff that is supposed to be inspiring, but really just makes you feel manipulated (Oliver Stone's World Trade Center comes to mind). What makes this actually inspiring is that it shows very smart characters doing their business. Good intentions and patriotism are assumed in the job positions that these characters fill.

Taking place in the fast-paced world of the West Wing of the White House, the President and his senior staff take care of business. Military, moral, constitutional, and personal issues are dealt with in this show with such fluidity. It's hard to convey how good this show really is. Aside from the early season 5 transition from Sorkin to other writers, the show never fails to be engaging and almost cinematic in its weaving story lines. Crises last for several episodes while new ones crop up giving the show a sense of realism within its way-too-witty-to-be-real-repartee-filled world. It's smart and assumes the audience will catch on, making this much more than a way to waste an hour. It feels like you're learning something.

So there was my year in new shows. The West Wing is already finished airing, but I hope the writers' strike ends soon so the rest of these shows can go on because nothing is better than a good TV show.