November 30, 2005

Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

3 out of 5 snowstones

An IMDb Top 250 Movie
It began with books and plays being turned into movies. Then it was TV series. Then it was videogames. And now there's this movie, based on a Las Vegas Disney ride. Apparently, much of its success comes from the performance of Johnny Depp, who very obviously doesn't take the whole thing too seriously, but never explicitly takes the piss. It is this, despite the producers' problems with his approach, that makes "Pirates" a lot of fun to watch. It's not just his attire, make-up and roguish ways that make him stand out from the other characters in the movie, but also his shameless overacting. I read somewhere that Keith Richards was Depp's main inspiration for this role.
The makers of this movie also correctly realized that an adaptation that would be true to life, depicting actual pirates as they historically were, would be both ridiculous and unsuccessful at the box office. They instead went all out with their undead, "arr-laddie" style swashbucklers, creating an enjoyable action movie.
With all that said, I still can't help but be amazed that this film made it into the (lowers regions of) the IMDb Top 250. Surely, there must be 250 better movies in the world than this one?

Posted by cronopio at 01:25 PM

November 29, 2005

It Happened One Night

An IMDb Top 250 movie

2 out of 5 snowstones

As exciting as the sounds and images of M are, so boring and uneventful are the photography and audio of "It Happened One Night", an early Clark Gable romcom featuring Claudette Colbert as his feisty counterpart. Shot in a few short weeks, this early Frank Capra film sets the standard for all future romantic comedies: boy meets girl, boy annoys girl, girl annoys boy, boy and girl realize they love each other but don't tell, boy loses girl, boy takes bold step and gets girl. Sure it may be the first movie of its kind, but it's not the first movie of its kind for me, and so it seems trite.
Most people have seen one scene from the movie, the one in which Colbert trumps Gable's hitch-hiking skills by raising the hemline of her skirt to a brake-slamming level.

Posted by cronopio at 01:07 PM

November 28, 2005


An IMDb Top 250 movie

5 out of 5 snowstones

The death of the silent movie wasn't a universally positive thing. You'd be right to think that sound adds a whole new dimension to movies, but you'd be wrong to think that this did not go at some expense. The problem was that microphones in the day were not sophisticated enough to only record localized sound. Instead, they registered all sound in a wide radius --including the loud whirring of the camera, that nobody had ever bothered to make quiet. To solve this problem, cameras were almost always encased in a large soundproof booth that was impossible to move.
The result of all this was that the first 'talkies' (and the cheap later ones) were extremely static in their camera work, featured a lot of dialog and as such did not present much excitement for the viewer.
Which brings us to the happy exception to the rule: M, by master German director Fritz Lang. M works perfectly because it needs silence both for its eerie atmosphere (it's about a crime mob chasing a child killer) and to make dramatic panning shots that were mostly unheard of at the time. Long shots in absolute silence are in this case a bonus and not a flaw. Featuring a very young Peter Lorre, who was destined to play the creepy psychopath for the rest of his life, the story is beautifully shot, has great actors and a solid plot. Go see it.

Posted by cronopio at 02:14 PM

November 25, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

An IMDb Top 250 movie

4 out of 5 snowstones

The advantage of writing a movie review a week after you've seen the movie is that it tells you how memorable the film is. "Million Dollar Baby" is a simple, basic story that, like its protagonist boxer, dances around us for a while, but then punches us out with a swift, devastating blow.
Clint Eastwood created a film in which people are driven by grim determination, not upbeat ambition. The heroine is a young woman desperately struggling to get out of her life through boxing, and for some time, she succeeds. But there's something ominous about her standing there alone in the boxing school in the middle of the night, facing the punching bag.
This film is a tragedy, but Eastwood tells it without sentimentalism or elaborate storylines. Instead it's straight and sharp like a razor, one more tale of quiet desperation in a world full of such tales. A movie that can break your heart without you feeling like it played a cheap trick on you-- that's what good storytelling, and good moviemaking, is all about.

Posted by cronopio at 03:35 PM

November 24, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

4 out of 5 snowstones

One of the best things about Mike Newell's classic romantic comedy, "Four Weddings and a Funeral", was his seemingly effortless transition from comedy to tragedy and back again. He managed to make this combination work by presenting engaging and believable characters.
In "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire", episode 4 in the boy wizard series, and definitely the best one so far, Newell does the same thing. I found myself laughing without impatience while Harry, Ron, Hermione and their classmates struggled with their raging hormones and the prospect of a school dance. Within half an hour after the gala, Harry is tortured by an evil villain with little slits for nostrils. The fact that the two scenes go hand in hand is no mean feat.
"Goblet" is the most expensive movie ever made (this week, anyway), but Newell didn't let the whopping three hundred and eight million dollars go to his head. He spent the money wisely on dazzling action sequences involving dragons and sea monsters. And he invested precious time in whittling the heavy tome by JK Rowling down to a mere 157 minutes. Unlike earlier Potter directors, he cut out entire subplots and even characters, but in the end, the movie is so much the better for it: more evenly paced, engaging and full of darkness. I saw it in an IMAX version; you should at least see it in a regular cinema (the one that you have to put your coat on for, not your 'home cinema').

Posted by cronopio at 01:44 PM

November 23, 2005

The Incredibles

An IMDb Top 250 movie

2 out of 5 snowstones

As computer animation progresses, this new movie medium can slowly but surely come of age. The Incredibles is an indication of what is to come: not a CGI movie, but an animation movie that just happens to be made using a computer.
The Incredibles household has a fifties-sixties feel to it, with the superhero family shamelessly donning spandex outfits and living in some nameless suburbia, but the world at large, featuring obsessive superhero fans and troublesome lawsuits, sits squarely in the new millennium. Probably it's this contrast, along with the many visual gags and the high velocity of the movie, that gave it its place in the coveted Top 250.
Overall, I found this movie worth seeing, a good laugh, but nothing to write home about. Rent it, don't buy it.

Posted by cronopio at 12:57 PM

November 22, 2005

Sin City

An IMDb Top 250 movie

3 out of 5 snowstones

While I will admit to reading comics, I had never seen Frank Miller's work when I sat down to watch 'Sin City'. There are basically two ways of looking at this movie. One, you can try to figure out what this movie is about, and find out that it's nothing much. It's about tough guys, hot dames, rainy streets, and lots and lots of extreme violence. And unlike in a Raymond Chandler screenplay, there's close to no witty dialogue or inventive plot twists to hold things together. There's only a few loosely connected stories, barely worthy of that name. In short, a crap movie for the popcorn crowd.
Two, Sin City is a dazzling reinvention of cinema, using digital wizardry not so much to show what can't exist (space battles or dinosaurs), but to show what does exist in an exaggerated way (film noir was never this noir). Call me pretentious, but Sin City does to movies what impressionism did to realist painting: it redefines what a movie can look like, and foregoes the notion that a movie should, at some level, look real. Sin City doesn't look real, nor does it want to, and your response to that fact will determine to a large degree whether you will like the movie or not. On a visual level, I love this movie: it's a shame that there is not enough story to back it up.

Posted by cronopio at 01:18 PM

November 21, 2005

Cidade de Deus

An IMDb Top 250 movie

4 out of 5 snowstones

Apparently, the following is a joke in Brazil: God calls a congregation of His angels during the days of Creation. 'You'll never believe what I've come up with now', He says. 'It's just an astounding country. It's got a jungle, exotic birds, pristine beaches, natural beauty everywhere. It's My best work yet, and I'm going to call it Brazil.' 'But Lord,' asks one of the angels, 'if this place is so beautiful, won't it be too much of a competition for Heaven?' God smiles benevolently and says, 'I didn't tell you what kind of people I'm going to put in there.'
This Brazilian movie about the Rio de Janeiro ganglands scores surprisingly high in the IMDb Top 250, especially for a non-US film. Hailed as the Latin American GoodFellas, City of God, as its international title goes, makes the thugs from Scorsese's universe look like weak-hearted mama's boys.
Murder is not only a trivial and fairly forgivable offence in the City of God, a suburb where desperate officials have migrated all the scum of the metropolis, it is also committed by small children. And although crime here is gritty rather than glamorous, there is still a strange beauty in the cityscape, the characters and the way the movie is shot. Definitely worth a look.

Posted by cronopio at 01:34 PM

November 18, 2005

Requiem for a dream

An IMDb Top 250 movie

4 out of 5 snowstones

What sounded like the title of a bad 70s symphonic rock album turned out to be a visually exciting maelstrom about addiction. What begins as a fairly quiet, amost overly relaxed movie about drug addiction (the teenager who keeps stealing his own mom's TV set, and the mom who keeps buying it back from the pawn shop), quickly descends down an ever darker spiral of abuse and self-abuse.
The mom turns out to be unseparable from her favorite infomercial and her diet pills, while her son and his drug buddies get more and more desperate, and less and less successful, in acquiring their next fix. The movie ends in nightmarish collage of all major characters reaching rock bottom, each in their own horrible way.
Most (indie) directors would choose to film such urban despair in gritty black-and-white, but Darren Aronofsky opts for vivid use of lighting and coloring, and rapid sequences of shots (the Trivia section of IMDb mentions that "[m]ost movies contain 600 to 700 cuts. Requiem for a Dream contains over 2,000").
My only objection to the movie is that you could see it as too pretentious, too artsy-fartsy for what is still a fairly straightforward plot. But to be honest, I found that the combination of the visuals and the story was effective.

Posted by cronopio at 02:21 PM

November 17, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

An IMDb Top 250 movie

5 out of 5 snowstones

The Rwanda massacres must count as one of the most gruesome events in human history: man-made slaughter on a scale that defies imagination, comparable only to the likes of Hitler's holocaust or Pol Pot's brutal regime. And as in those cases, the main (and unanswerable) question in this is: what is it that made this horror possible? In this case, what made people enthusiastically wield machetes and bludgeon some one million people to death?
"Hotel Rwanda" is a movie about the events in Rwanda, but it is never concerned with this question. Instead, it shows a desperate hotel manager trying to save as many people as possible from the insanity. Unlike in movies such as "Schindler's List", the utter randomness of the violence is only touched upon, and focus shifts instead to the United Nations and its utter failure in preventing the bloodshed from occurring. This made the movie unsatisfying to me. I had hoped to learn more about the conflict and its origins. Instead, a Compelling Drama was put to the forefront.

Posted by cronopio at 01:12 PM

November 16, 2005


An IMDb Top 250 movie

4 out of 5 snowstones

I never knew about this apparent classic, but it's up there with "Arsenic and Old Lace" as a great example of translating screwball plays into screwball movies. In this case, James Stewart is Elwood P. Dowd, an insane man who is convinced that he is accompanied by a giant rabbit named Harvey.
This idea in itself would get pretty tired pretty soon. But the genius of the story is in the fact that Harvey, real or imagined, creates some kind of impenetrable shield around Dowd, protecting from all who would do him harm. Happily oblivious to the harsh realities around him (he states, in an unusually lucid moment, "I've wrestled with reality for 35 years and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it"), Dowd somehow always gets what he wants.
Anyway, the slapstick moments, as well as situation comedy which actually revolves around the situation (how many 'sitcoms' do these days?), make this one to watch.

Posted by cronopio at 02:07 PM

November 15, 2005

Oldboy (2003)

An IMDb Top 250 movie

3 out of 5 snowstones

This South Korean movie (the first South Korean movie I've seen, as far as I know) deserves its place in the higher echelons of the top 250 for its inventive start (a man is kidnapped, locked into an empty room for years, and the released, all for no apparent reason) and its kick-ass action scenes.
Director Park conjures up memorable images (among others a long fight sequence in a hallway, filmed in one long tracking shot) but the movie tapers off toward the end. Many films that revolve around a Big Secret disappoint the most when the Big Secret is revealed, and Oldboy, unfortunately, is one such film. However, if you can stand watching a man eat a live octopus (definitely "harmed during the making of this movie") and some unpleasant scenes of Tarantino-style violence, this movie is definitely worth seeing.

Posted by cronopio at 01:50 PM

November 14, 2005

Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi

(English title: Spirited Away)

An IMDb Top 250 movie

2 out of 5 snowstones

While watching this movie, I thought that the animation in this movie gives Disney a run for its money. But when I later saw the trailer (included on the DVD), I saw that Disney is in fact the US distributor.
That said, this movie is hardly standard Disney fare. I found it hard to get a grasp on this erratic story, mostly set in some bizarre dream-like universe full of weird creatures. I might be the wrong target demographic (both in terms of age and in terms of cultural background), and although the graphics of the movie are quite stunning, they didn't make up for the confusion I felt through most of this film. Kids may find it intriguing; I didn't.

Posted by cronopio at 01:14 PM

November 10, 2005

Ostre sledované vlaky

3 out of 5 snowstones

Apparently the most celebrated movie in what was once Czechoslovakia in the sixties, "Closely Observed Trains" is set in World War II, but the Nazi occupation is just a sidebar to the main story. With a typically Eastern European mix of resignedness and dreaminess, young Milos takes a job as an apprentice train dispatcher, a job that involves zero effort, but then again, also zero excitement. And a young man's mind begins to wander, as it will, about the cute train conductress who has her eye on him. This is a movie about the idiotic stuff that men will do for or with women (such as rubber-stamping her bottom with government-issue train stamps).
The beginning of the story so resembles the movie Amélie in its rapid sequence of crazy little stories that I anticipated what would follow. Unfortunately, the movie slows down a lot after that, although the humor remains. The film ends in typical fashion with an act of silly suicidal heroism. I strongly recommend you check it out.

Posted by cronopio at 08:53 PM

November 09, 2005

Treasure of the Sierra Madre

An IMDb Top 250 movie

3 out of 5 snowstones

Greed corrupts, as Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston (director John Huston's father) and one Tim Holt discover in this classic about gold-digging. Huston plays a seasoned prospector, who knows enough about human nature to realize that (a) whoever you dig with will do anything to get hold of your gold and (b) he himself is no exception to rule (a).
Bogart's character, on the other hand, new to the trade, turns from hopeful to angry to homicidal as his grasp on the gold tightens and weakens. It's one of his better roles.
Quite aside from the good cast and script, I was also delighted to finally find out the origin of that classic phrase: "Badges? Badges?! We don' need to steenkin' badges!" Like so many movie quotes, this one is different from what is actually said in the movie (by a Mexican desperado posing as a policeman, being asked for his badge by Bogart).

Posted by cronopio at 01:02 PM

November 08, 2005


An IMDb Top 250 movie

2 out of 5 snowstones

Based on the letters of one Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, this movie tells the story of the first black regiment in the US Army, which, under Shaw's leadership, trained itself for combat and engaged the Confederates in a bloody charge that killed a great many of them.
As a pacifist, I can't help feeling that this movie shows the first case of white Americans figuring out that everybody can be killed on the battlefield, regardless of race, creed or color. This strategy worked through Vietnam to Iraq and is better described as 'Operation Black Shield' in South Park: The Movie.
The reason that people will be angry about my comment above is the fact that the 54th Regiment died for what is quite undeniably a good cause, the abolition of slavery. And I realize that this is one of those cases in which pacifism is a hard case to make. But as Gandhi once commented, 'What difference does it make to the dead if he died for a good cause or a bad one?'
Maybe the best thing to say is that the soldiers were without a doubt incredibly courageous, but that the event was anything but glorious. Seen from this light, 'Glory' is a much-needed tribute to these people. But it's the fact that the movie can be seen differently as well that bothers me.

Posted by cronopio at 01:09 PM

November 07, 2005

Collect the whole set!

Shortly after discovering, a site that lets you manage which IMDb Top 250 movies you have or haven't seen, a nerd-like obsession to watch all Top 250 movies came over me. The tally now already stands at 192, a number which can go up as I watch movies, but also down as new unseen movies are added at the bottom of the list. I'm going to try and see lots of the unseen movies, and with a very good DVD rental place nearby, I'm sure I can get quite far.
That said, the list as it stands is not one I'd necessarily agree with. Geek classics such as Star Wars movies and Lord of the Rings movies score disproportionately high, and US movies predominate. Just to give you some stats, here are two views on today's snapshot of the Top 250:

To check my progress on seeing all of the movies, see the little "IMDB" indicator on the left, or check my page on the twofifty site.

Posted by cronopio at 01:13 PM

November 04, 2005

Sorting the laundry

Doing the laundry is annoying. It's a chore you want to get over with quickly. I spend too much time sorting my laundry. There it is: the big, intimidating bag of laundry. There's dark stuff. There's colored stuff. There's white stuff. This I can handle. But there's more.
Clothing has labels that tell you what you can and can't do. Don't wash a 30-degree blouse on 40 degrees or you'll ruin it. Don't wash a 40-degree T-shirt on 30 degrees, or the stain won't come out. So I spend precious minutes of my otherwise dazzling life turning shirts inside out to find the label and its instructions.
That said, the symbols on the labels are also puzzling to say the least. It must be obvious to any normal person that an equilateral triangle pointing upward indicates 'bleach', but for some insane reason I keep forgetting.
So here's my solution: the Laundry List (see link below). This is a PDF document that not only explains what each of the symbol means, but also lets you fill in descriptions of your clothes and check which symbols apply. This does not seem as time-consuming as it sounds: items like "towels" and "sheets" can be grouped under one item since you wash them all the same way (unless you're one of those glib characters who has silk sheets). So: download, print, fill in and hang in the damp, cramped room that is your laundry location.

Get the Laundry List

Please note: This document is for European use only. For some reason, Americans and Europeans use slightly different symbols on their laundry labels. (Wouldn't they just.) Also, Americans call these things 'care labels', meaning that if you don't care, you can ignore them.

Posted by cronopio at 01:12 PM

November 03, 2005

Blurbs for blurbless books: the Phone Directory

I love the word 'blurb'. It sounds like a cross between an onomatopoeia for vomiting and a monster from a 50s sci-fi Z-movie. But no, it's merely the promotional text found on a book jacket.
Some books don't have blurbs, presumably because they are beyond the need for praise. What would blurbs for such books look like? Here's one:

The Phone Directory
This mammoth reference work is now in its 128th edition, and still going strong as ever. An indispensable tome for private and corporate readers alike, it's where you go to find someone... to find anyone! Set in a readable yet dense typeface, The Phone Directory offers hundreds of thousands of phone numbers, conveniently sorted by surname. Address information helps you distinguish one J. Jones from another. All you need now is a telephone (landline or mobile, either will do!) and make contact.
But wait! Your name can be in this book, which is distributed in 5,000,000 copies across the country! Simply request a telephone connection and we will make sure that your name, address and phone number appear in the next edition of... The Phone Directory!

Posted by cronopio at 01:40 PM

November 02, 2005

The Pianist

4 out of 5 snowstones

For a long time, I was unaware that as a child, director Roman Polanski was in the Krakow ghetto and that he spent most of the war wandering the European countryside. It helps explain why he made a movie out of the true life's story of Wladek Szpilman, a Polish Jew and pianist who turns from hunted to haunted as he tries to survive in his city, Warsaw, during World War II.
Like in Schindler's List, a sense of total arbitrariness over who lives (few) and who dies (many) pervades the movie. Szpilman narrowly escapes deportation because a Jewish policeman he vaguely knows separates him from his family as they board the train to Treblinka. Numerous selfless and selfish people help him survive, but most of the time, he's on the run or imprisoned in some nameless apartment somewhere in the city. The movie succeeds in being both intensely personal and almost blank at the same time: rather than a heroic figure who takes conscious decision to direct his fate, Szpilman could almost be called lucky as he keeps surviving one ordeal after the other. He is simulatenously anybody and somebody.

Posted by cronopio at 01:35 PM

November 01, 2005

Chatspeare: Macbeth II.iii

Posted by cronopio at 03:35 PM