Movie ABCs

Written by rob on March 4, 2008 – 7:25 pm -

Click here to see what I like to call my “Movie ABCs”. Whenever I miraculously come under the possession of a digital movie (I swear I don’t know where they come from!), I add its name to this Excel-like online spreadsheet (powered by Google). It is essentially an index of all the movies I have available on my external drive (which, by the way, is filling up rapidly!). Whenever I watch a movie, I give it a rating based on my own personal rating system. It isn’t the normal system where a movie simply gets 1-10 based on how good it is, so check the bottom of the file for an explanation of what each rating means.

I have bolded one title from each letter group (e.g. Pulp Fiction for P). The two letters I’m not really happy about are K and Z. Z, especially, is now Zodiac but only because I don’t have any others. Any suggestions?

ALSO… I am currently missing a movie for the letter Q and U, which kind of takes away from the point of “Movie ABCs”. Let me know if you have any suggestions. I am probably going to go with Usual Suspects, The if I don’t find a better alternative.

Just a quick note: These are only the movies I have on my external drive. This is by no means supposed to be a comprehensive list of movies I approve of; in fact, many of the movies on this list I don’t even like that much (evidenced by the rating of 5 or 6).


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“Babel” (2006)

Written by rob on February 23, 2007 – 4:27 pm -

Having already reviewed 21 Grams and Amores Perros, it is only fair that I get to the final installment of the Iñárritu/Arriaga trilogy. As a standalone movie, Babel is different and unique. It aims to provide a snapshot of life from the very chaotic world in which we live. Some critics call it Crash on a global scale; this applies very well. When one considers it in relation to the previous two movies, it becomes something different entirely. It contains the raw, relentless emotion and uncanny portrayal of the foreign like Amores Perros. It also contains the complex relationships and powerful metaphors of 21 Grams. Somewhere along the way, however, the movie falls short of combining the best of those two movies, and falls short of a lot of things in general.

In following suit with the rest of the movies in the trilogy, this movie connects multiple stories. It actually involves four instead of the usual three, but in some ways you can say it is three because it only takes place in three countries. The story is told, for the most part, in chronological order, as opposed to 21 Grams. I didn’t feel the acting was particularly good from anyone involved, including the big names like Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, who were, at best, melodramatic. The performances were forgettable. The characters they played, however, were rather interesting. Whether it was the dysfunctional relationship of Richard (Pitt) and Susan (Blanchett) or the seemingly insane Amelia (Adriana Barraza) who makes ridiculously dumb decisions, there are a lot of complicated lives in this movie. It becomes clear that the director was trying to use these characters’ messed-up lives to prove a point. Did it work? Probably. But it felt forced.

The stories, the characters, the themes… they all felt like they were being spoon-fed. At times it seemed raw and natural like Amores Perros, but it was almost too natural. This led to a certain superficiality that ruined the overall point of the movie. What Crash did remarkably well, this movie fails to do. More than anything, this movie reeks of critical appeal. If there’s something that I hate more than stupid alien plot twists (a’la The Forgotten), it is when a movie purposely does things to try to win awards (e.g. A Beautiful Mind). Babel is designed to go after the Oscar. It is what some like to call Oscar bait; I hated that about the movie. All of this bad aside, the movie is decent when you simply watch it. It is very entertaining, in fact, if you just watch it with no context. Babel also succeeds in introducing an interesting set of conflicts that a proactive movie-watcher would use to question modern society, but this will likely be missed by the casual viewer. It fails, however, to stand beside Amores Perros and the excellent 21 Grams. It even fails to capture the essence of Crash on a global scale. It is for that reason that I feel this movie was a particular weak end to the trilogy and why I wouldn’t recommend it to those looking for a true Iñárritu/Arriaga experience.

RATING: 6 / 10


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“El Laberinto del Fauno” (2006)

Written by rob on February 5, 2007 – 11:23 pm -

Also known as Pan’s Labyrinth, this movie by Guillermo del Toro (yes, the guy who did Hellboy) is something truly extraordinary. Critics everywhere have raved about the movie, and I am here to tell you that it is not without cause. Simply put, this movie has all the aspects of a masterful film, as defined by me — a character and story you can relate to, a theme that stays in your mind after the movie is over, and many layers that can be later examined (hardly an official list of required elements, I know). By blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, this movie will capture your thoughts for days after you see it. And while most of the critical focus is on the fantasy itself, the movie has subtle underlying themes introduced by various metaphors, for those who wish to find it.

Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), who is brilliantly acted, is a young girl who is troubled by the horrors of Spain in its Civil War, circa 1944. Her widowed mother (Ariadna Gil) is now married to and harboring the baby of Captain Vidal (Sergi López), who might be one of the most brutal villains to appear on the silver screen in quite some time. Beyond all the horror of reality, Ofelia engages in a fantasy where a faun wants her to perform three tasks in order to reclaim her status as Princess of the Underworld. The two obvious stand-outs are Ofelia and Captain Vidal’s characters for their wonderful on-screen performances; however, one cannot forget the clearly talented Doug Jones who plays the Faun (and also the creepy Pale Man). He was the only English-speaking member of the crew, and as such had to learn the Spanish lines of both Ofelia and his character to move his lips at the right moments. An act of true dedication, del Toro himself labeled Jones as a perfectionist.

It is easy to dismiss this movie as over-hyped. After all, every critic and his dog is calling this movie one of the best movies of all time. As skeptical as you are, you have to realize at one point… maybe they were all right? Let me be perfectly clear… Pan’s Labyrinth (which I prefer to call El Laberinto del Fauno because it is less misleading with regard to a certain Greek myth) is an exceptional movie. It has something for everyone. Whether you care to dissect its multiple themes and plot layers or whether you simply want to be mystified by a wonderful fantasy, this movie will give you what you set out to see. I went in expecting a lot after hearing praise from plenty of trusted friends and colleagues; even with the hype, I enjoyed it immensely. I suspect the perfection of this movie will only show in its second and third viewing, which I plan to do very soon. Do yourself a favor and see this movie in the theater (unfortunately it is not widespread); for one reason or another you will love it.

RATING: 10 / 10


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“Amores Perros” (2000)

Written by rob on January 29, 2007 – 3:29 pm -

In continuing my review of the Iñárritu/Arriaga trilogy, I come to Amores Perros. I watched 21 Grams first, so I was coming into this movie expecting much of the same. In some respect, Amores Perros is very much like 21 Grams; however, there are important differences. This movie, unlike its soon-to-be-sequel, doesn’t spare any punches. It is a graphic, brutal, and downright realistic look at Mexico City from the perspective of three troubled individuals. Unlike 21 Grams, however, the characters in this movie are very separated; they are a lot less connected. In fact, the only time they are really connected is in the one car accident that represents the convergence of the stories. The idea is that this one event affects the lives of all three main characters, some more directly than others. The idea certainly does work.

Amores Perros is in Spanish, so you will be reading subtitles. The cast is all-Spanish, as well, so there are no notables to mention. The actors do, however, perform quite well. Everyone is believable in their role, and they convey the emotions necessary to make one connect with the stories. The entire movie is very raw, and the performances make it work. It is also important to note that, despite a few flashbacks, the movie is told in chronological order, unlike 21 Grams. The first story is about Octavio, a man who is in love with his brother’s wife. Octavio uses his dog’s ability to fight in underworld dogfights to raise enough money for he and his sister-in-law to skip town; however, he gets caught up with the wrong crowd and after the car accident everything turns bad. The second is about Valeria, a beautiful model who recently moved in with a magazine editor that left his wife and kids to be with her. Their happy story gets ugly quick as Valeria hurts her leg — this ends her modelling career, and complicates her obviously shallow relationship. The final story is about El Chivo, an ex-terrorist who is now a hitman and also a dog-lover. He gets involved in the affairs of others, but eventually learns that he wants to get to know his daughter that hasn’t known him since he went to prison for his terrorist past. Many critics dislike the second story, but I felt it was just as good as the rest; I would even put it above El Chivo’s. Octavio’s, however, is the clear winner in terms of emotion and story; it is just the most moving.

The aforementioned dogfights are particularly brutal and may deter some viewers. Also, the stories are a lot less connected than I was hoping (considering 21 Grams’ characters are tightly interwoven). The movie is also quite long, clocking in at more than 2.5 hours. The story rarely lags, but the pacing is a bit off. One can’t help but realize that Octavio’s story is a lot more fast-paced. Beyond that, Octavio’s story is overall better than the rest by a large margin. When watching the movie, Octavio’s story almost sets the bar too high, setting up the following stories to fail. They do not fail, however, but they are relatively weak compared with that first story. Still, Amores Perros represents a wild look at Mexico City’s diverse characters and portrays a powerful set of emotions. Just like 21 Grams, this will have you thinking for many nights afterwards. If you can get past the brutal dogfights, there is really no reason not to give this a chance. It is a staple for Spanish movies in America and truly represents something powerful.

RATING: 8 / 10


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“21 Grams” (2003)

Written by rob on January 28, 2007 – 11:07 pm -

21 Grams is the middle of the three movies in the thematic trilogy by Iñárritu (director) and Arriaga (writer). The first thing you will notice about the movie is that it doesn’t move chronologically. You will see characters at their prime and then at their worse, and then back at their prime. In fact, it isn’t until the middle of the movie that you realize some characters are the same people (because of their vastly different appearance and apparent state of mind). This device works for the movie because the nature of the plot almost requires it. Suffice it to say, if the story were told in order, it wouldn’t be as interesting.

The most impressive part of the movie, to me, is the performance by the three main characters: Paul (Sean Penn), Christina (Naomi Watts), and Jack (Benicio Del Toro). As stated above, each character has two very different sides. The way the actors can make both of these contrasting sides believable is just amazing to behold. The transformations are sometimes unsettling to behold (seeing someone go from so well-off to utterly distraught, etc.). Aside from this, the movie is also rather rewarding in that you feel good about putting all the pieces of the puzzle together toward the end (it really isn’t difficult to, but seeing all of them come together before your eyes just feels great). I also love the ending… it straight-out gives you the theme of the movie via a narration, but it doesn’t feel forced and I think it works remarkably well. For those who like to think a lot after seeing a movie, it also includes a good amount of profundity in its themes.

As for the bad, this movie doesn’t have much of it. There are times when the plot lags, but as long as you stay with it, it will pick right back up again. I don’t think the non-chronological story telling is particularly difficult to follow, but if you don’t pay attention you will likely get lost. Aside from that, there is really nothing to complain about. Simply put, I loved this movie and felt that the the actors did an incredible job. I consider this to be one of my Top Ten movies of all time.

RATING: 10 / 10


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Short Movie Reviews to Come

Written by rob on January 26, 2007 – 12:32 pm -

One of my many New Year’s resolutions this year is to watch one movie per week (the way I figure… the more resolutions you make the more likely at least one will be fulfilled, but I can see how that is failing logic). So far, I have met that goal. The movies that I have been watching are not your typical action, horror, or suspense flick, but actually very intellectual dramas (like Amores Perros and 21 Grams). What I thought that I would do is every week when I watch a movie, I would make a small write-up/review about it. I don’t want it to be as long as the Silent Hill movie review I did a while back, but it will rather be maybe 1-3 paragraphs discussing how I felt about the movie as a whole and the actors in it. It is going to be a thematic type discussion, and will hopefully be vague enough on plot details to not spoil anything.

I’m not promising anything, but I am going to watch the following movies some time soon and may make write-ups about them: Casino Royale, The Descent, Miami Vice, The Prestige, The Good Shepherd, and The 25th Hour (not modern).


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“Silent Hill” (2006)

Written by rob on April 23, 2006 – 11:41 am -

It is a well-known fact that video game to movie adaptations turn out bad. Look at Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, or pretty much any movie made by Uwe Boll, such as the recently released BloodRayne. Video games are the latest and greatest form of entertainment, perhaps because they add the interactive piece we have all been waiting for in movies. Maybe that is the reasons why no movie director can capture the essence of a video game on the Big Screen. Or maybe they just don’t love the games enough to fully capture it. Whatever it is, gamers everywhere were hoping that Silent Hill would deviate from this unfortunate fact.

But it didn’t.

Let me begin by saying that I’ve never actually played the games. I watched the majority of Silent Hill 2 being played, and I must say it was quite frightening. In particular, the boss named Pyramid Head scared anyone with two eyes into crying like a baby, for the very reason that it wasn’t as slow as the rest of the zombie-type creatures in the game. While the game wasn’t worthy of any Game of the Year awards, it was a master of portraying atmospheric creepiness and using it to scare you. The key word here is scare… that is what we were all hoping for from Silent Hill the movie.

The film starts off portraying Rose ( Radha Mitchell ) frantically looking for her daughter Sharon ( Jodelle Ferland ), who has sleepwalked out of her bed and into the night. When Rose finally finds her, Sharon is slowly chanting the words, “Silent Hill”. The movie gives you the impression that this isn’t the first time such a thing has happened. The next morning, Rose tells Sharon about what she does at night, and that they are going to a trip to Silent Hill in order to find out what is wrong with her. A few scenes later, Rose crashes the family jeep right in front of the sign welcoming her to Silent Hill, and awakens only to see that her daughter is missing…

The rest of the movie, for about an hour, is just gratuitous violent and horror when Rose chases around a girl that looks like Sharon. One key thing to note here is that the setting of Silent Hill is masterfully captured. In Silent Hill 2, some of the places you go are the Grand Hotel and the bowling alley, both of which are featured in wonderful detail in the movie. Every time a town siren goes off, the entire town transforms, as everything goes dark, the walls crack, and strange monsters appear. From the ripped wallpaper to the monsters themselves, players of the game will recognize everything. Pyramid Head himself is also well created. However, the fact that the siren is there to alert you before every potentially scary image, and the fact that the camera doesn’t spook you (you see the monsters well before Rose does), leads to the unscariness of this movie. Now, for those of you that are scared by gore and frightening settings alone, you will probably be scared nonetheless, but don’t expect many times where you are going to jump when something appears out from behind the corner.

Music in this movie is very well implemented. I think the soundtrack adds to the atmosphere and mood of scenes very well, building suspense for a scary moment. If only the director gave you those scary moments, this might be a worthy scary movie.

Unfortunately, aside from the wonderful music and setting, this movie doesn’t have much else going for it. Rose’s husband, Chris ( Sean Bean ), is looking for Rose and Sharon, as well as details on Silent Hill’s past throughout the whole movie. The minor story bits that are gained from him are essentially useless, and it seems like he is just there to break from the intense horror of the rest of the movie. On the topic of story, this movie definitely has one. However, it is not elaborated enough to give you any sense of what is going on. There is a particular point in the movie (about thirty minutes before the end), where the film just starts throwing story at you. It is as if the writer forgot he needed a story until that point. I wouldn’t have minded it if they gave you enough, but they most certainly do not. You will undoubtedly be scratching your head at the gory climax of the movie, and the ending will make your headache even worse. The story that is there is definitely intriguing, but that makes it all the more disappointing when you never get enough to fully understand everything. There are parts that are well-communicated, but there are gaps that never get filled in. I originally thought my misunderstanding was attributed to not playing all the games, but a friend of mine played all four and still didn’t understand the movie any more than I did.

(EDIT: I talked to a few more people who played the game, and it seems that they did understand the movie’s story. They told me that the story was very much like the original game [remember I watched Silent Hill 2 being played, so I knew nothing of the first one], and with some common sense you could piece the plot together. They explained it to me and I can now say that I understand the movie to a certain degree. But this doesn’t change my review: the average movie goer should not have to research a movie just to understand it!)

There are also a few other gripes I have of the movie. First of all, which sort of goes hand-in-hand with what I already discussed, is the fact that Pyramid Head is not scary at all. In the game, he was probably the most scary thing ever to be put into a video game. Chasing after you in the Grand Hotel in Silent Hill 2, Pyramid Head made you wish you wore diapers. In the movie, he was extremely disappointing. Not only did he not scare you, he seemed severely crippled as opposed to his quick-moving videogame counterpart. Secondly, the creatures seemed to “dissolve away” at all the right times. Rose didn’t even get a scratch on her, aside from the initial crash of her Jeep in the beginning of the movie. She was covered in the blood of others, but it just seemed like she never got properly attacked by the many monsters in the movie. I mentioned that the siren of the town made all the monsters appear. Well, they all disappeared just before killing Rose, it seemed. I’m not saying she should have been killed, but in most good scary movies, the main character takes a beating, and it adds to the reality of the horific situation.

The movie undoubtedly had a high production value. The sets were well-detailed, and the special effects of the monsters and atmosphere was very convincing. However, the story was severely useless and the movie was not scary at all. I would have much preferred if Pyramid Head was as scary as he was in the game. I would not recommend this movie to anyone, as it has nothing except visuals going for it.

(EDIT: After consideration and watching the movie a second time [not in the theatre this time around], I decided to give two scores below. The first is the original score, which I will call the mainstream score. This is the score that any average person going to see this movie should consider. The second, however, is the hardcore score. This is for people that either played the original Silent Hill video game, are highly intelligent, or are willing to do some research on the internet either before or after watching the movie. I did the said research, and it made me realize how ingenious the plot was. I just had to give it credit in the form of this hardcore score. The story, I now consider, to be perfect; however, this does not help the fact that the movie isn’t scary and Pyramid Head is under-done, in my opinion.)

MAINSTREAM RATING: 4 / 10

HARDCORE RATING: 8 / 10


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Top Ten Movies

Written by rob on March 21, 2006 – 10:01 am -

The following is a very rough draft. I’m still reviewing a couple of movies that may possibly make it to this list, and the order is still very temporary. As far as trilogies (or sagas, in the case of Star Wars), I listed my favorite one, much like my Top Ten Video Games, in parentheses. In these cases, I highly enjoyed the entire series (or felt that the series as a whole represented masterful film-making, while any one alone wasn’t particularly special), but just listed my favorite one. In other trilogies where I just loved one movie out of them, I will just list that movie without any parentheses, like in the case of Godfather.

  1. V For Vendetta
  2. Adaptation
  3. Pan’s Labyrinth
  4. The Matrix (Reloaded)
  5. Butterfly Effect
  6. 21 Grams
  7. Mulholland Drive
  8. Lord of the Rings (Return of the King)
  9. Godfather: Part I
  10. Swordfish

EDIT 08-26-07: I made some more modifications, adding a few new movies and also removing some. I really want to only focus on movies that I feel really matter in the grand scheme of things: where the movie transcended the screen and tugged at my very existence.


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