Monday, November 21, 2005


I don't know if I've detailed my patented Tracie Bezerra Film-Movie-Flick Scale of Excellence or Lack Thereof in Cinema in this space. It's pretty simple, really -- if it's great, it's a Film; if it's okay to pretty good, it's a movie, and if it's leaning toward utter suckitude, it's a Flick. Pluses or minuses can be applied as warranted. These ratings are based entirely on my personal enjoyment of the work in question, which usually takes the quality of the writing and freqently the acting as well into consideration, but not the amount of money spent to make it, the number of Oscar nominations it might have received, the awesomeness of the special effects, or how much the general public might have liked it. For instance, I don't give a rat's rear that "Titanic" is expensive, beautiful to look at, or adored by millions. That bloated piece of crap is a Flick in my book.

Yeah, I'm a total snob when it comes to the movies, and I have no problem admitting that.

Anyway, I've taken in a lot of cinema in the last few weeks, and I've been meaning to post about what I've watched, so it seems like a dust off the old system and give her a whirl...

"Garden State" - I watched this on DVD last weekend in a desperate attempt to not work on my novel, and I loved it. It was funny, and Zach Braff and Natalie Portman were both wonderful -- I'd seen him in "Scrubs" and her in several movies, but I would never have suspected that he was capable of such a strong dramatic performance, or that she could be so adorably goofy. I laughed the entire way through her first scene. I had heard that Zach Braff's performance was flat due to his character being on medication, but that it hurt the movie -- I disagree, and thought he portrayed someone who was slowly coming out of the fog of everything he'd been taking for years and years really well. The chemistry between the two characters was also very well done, and Peter Sarsgaard, as the stoner friend they hang out with, was great too. Rating: Film -

"Pride & Prejudice" - Well, I knew I'd go see this one, being kind of a Jane Austen junkie. The first time I saw the trailer, I had mixed feelings about it, since it appeared to be a very movie-fied version, in contrast with the 1995 six-hour A&E version with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy that I absolutely loved. But this new one surprised me by being, in many ways, better than the 1995 one. I think that the older one was probably more what Jane Austen pictured when she wrote the novel -- very prim and proper and elegant, with all the grime of 18th century life edited out. In the new version, though the story is obviously condensed to fit in a shorter running time and some of the scenes are staged more dramatically (Mr. Darcy's first proposal to Elizabeth Bennet happens outside, where they are sheltered from a huge rainstorm by some sort of stone monument, rather than in a small, quiet drawing room), there is also a warts-and-all quality that lends it more authenticity. Hair is messy, skin is greasy, pigs and geese roam the Bennet estate, and their house is filled with the clutter that you would find in a real house where a family with five daughters lived. Keira Knightley plays a different kind of Elizabeth, who really seems like a 20-year-old girl who hasn't quite figured out what she wants, and the new Mr. Darcy, who doesn't seem like much to look at in the beginning, actually seems kind of hot by the end. Loved it. Rating: Film

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" - This was one of my favorite books of the series, and the previews for the movie looked awesome, but I didn't think it would probably be as good as the third HP movie, and I was right. I enjoyed it a lot -- everything in it was very well done, and the way the ginormously long story was whittled down to fit into the 2+-hour running time without cutting essential plot points from the book (which was my only quibble with HP3) was admirable to say the least. There is never a dull moment in "Goblet of Fire" -- it moves from event to event at a breathtaking pace just because it has to in order to fit all of the action in. As a fan of the books, I wasn't disappointed, but maintaining that breakneck pace does come at the expense of things like character development, and think I would have felt a lot was missing if I wasn't well-versed in the HP universe already. Then again, how many people will go see this movie without having read any of the books or seen any of the previous movies? "Goblet of Fire" has a more humor than the three previous HP movies, due largely to the increased presence of twins Fred and George Weasley, who are homely but awfully amusing, and the whole Yule Ball subplot. Rating: Movie +

"Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" - Our copy of the DVD arrived from Netflix the other day. I realize I probably missed a lot by not seeing it in a theater with hundreds of SW fanatics -- in fact, I probably should have watched it when Reasonable Man was home -- a lot of my enjoyment of the series comes from his worship of it. Anyway, I didn't like this one. I could see how it was better than "Attack of the Clones" (never saw "Phantom Menace"), but the script was still awful, and the only good acting was done by Ewan McGregor. The special effects were good, but I couldn't care less about the storyline. The Jedis totally lost me with that whole "caring about someone enough to be afraid to lose them makes you weak" thing, and the Anakin-Padme relationship always made me want to barf, so it was pretty hard to root for any of the characters to win the battle for Anakin's soul or whatever that crap was about. I do like the CGI Yoda a lot, and did I mention Ewan McGregor? I didn't even mind his facial hair so much in this one. Still, overall it was a disappointment. They should have stopped making these movies after they finished the first twenty minutes of "Return of the Jedi." Rating: Flick +

"The Wiz" - I suspect this is one of those movies, not unlike "The Wizard of Oz," that it helps to have seen for the first time when you were a little kid. I can totally appreciate that a lot of people think it was just a big mess. It's too long by probably an hour, a lot of the acting, especially that of Diana Ross as Dorothy, is shrill and weirdly overwrought, and there is no excuse for the amount of Nipsey Russell in this movie. Still, having seen it the first time when I was around 10 years old, and having watched it often enough growing up to know learn the words to a lot of the songs and that kind of thing, I have to say, this one is a favorite. Here are the things I like about it:
1) Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow is fabulous. His singing, dancing and, surprisingly, acting are all first rate. I have the song he sings in his first scene, "You Can't Win," on my iPod. His performance in "The Wiz" is a huge part of the reason I was a big fan of his once upon a time.
2) Ted Ross as the Cowardly Lion and his song "I'm a Mean Old Lion."
3) The dancing
4) The songs (except the two Nipsey Russell sings)
5) The gritty urban sets
6) The scary scene in the subway where all kinds of weird stuff chases the main characters
I found this movie on DVD for $5.50 at Target last week. A bargain at twice the price! Rating: Film -

"Spanglish" - I'd heard mixed reviews of this movie when it came out , but was intrigued by the previews, and I'd heard good things about it from several people I knew. So I was excited to come across it on HBO last night. I really enjoyed it. I always appreciate it when a film has that quality where you're not sure where the story is going or what kind of resolution is going to be satisfying, and this one was so full of unique characters and situations that I felt that way throughout. Paz Vega, Tea Leoni and Adam Sandler all give their characters complexity, and I liked how none of them came off as purely saintly or villainous. I remember reading in reviews that Leoni's character, Deb was such a monster that she ruined the whole movie, but I disagree with that. Deb is a monster for sure, but I found her both believable and very, very human, and while I could certainly sympathize deeply with Adam Sandler's John for being married to her, I liked Deb enough to want John to stay with her. Sandler's performance as John has both the quick you expect from him as well as a sweetness and real likeability. He's is really transcending the whole goofball comedy guy thing and becoming an interesting actor. Both of the young actresses who played teen daughters Bernie and Christina were excellent. My only quibble about with movie is that Flor learns English much too quickly and easily. Rating: Movie +

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