I’d like to steal Vadim Rizov’s opening sentence: “Having barely survived Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 Grams when it came out, I was inclined to stay away from his filmography for the rest of my life.” But how could we stay away from a Michael Keaton-starring, Emmanuel Lubezki-shot movie called Birdman? I’m sympathetic to Rizov’s entire “five points of contention” article for Filmmaker Magazine, praising Edward Norton before wondering, among other things, why the single-take illusion was necessary. But I appreciated the single-take (and the wonderful arrhythmic drum score) as an enjoyable distraction, making the movie fun to watch before the inevitable post-film discussion of what point it was trying to make (??) and whether all its characters are unredeemed assholes (they are).

Precocious children with parental issues, highly-organized secret plans and old-fashioned craftsy props surrounded by superstar actors including Bill Murray – so yes, it’s like any Wes Anderson movie, but it’s a good one. He has a unique talent for collapsing different locations into one hermetic snowglobe of a film. The visual/conceptual unity is helped by the soft, grainy 16mm cinematography, and that fact that all the action takes place on an island.

In the celeb-actor world, Frances McDormand is cheating on husband Bill Murray with local cop Bruce Willis. Edward Norton leads a troop of scouts, hopes to join his idol, scout commander Harvey Keitel, at the big convention where Jason Schwartzman is some kinda mercenary merchant. And Bob Balaban is a sort-of-present character/narrator.

But one of the movie’s strengths is that it focuses primarily on its young heroes, Sam and Suzy, who run off together and camp on the beach, leaving the celeb-actors as background players. Willis and Norton lead search parties as two threats approach: an epic storm, and Tilda Swinton of Social Services, coming to take Sam to a home.

Katy liked it more than she thought she would.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010, Jon Turteltaub)
Our brash teen hero is driving around anxiously. But elsewhere – Alfred Molina/Nicholas Cage wizard battle! That’s what I came here for. The CGI flies as dark sorceress Monica Bellucci unleashes ancient evils. Cage inhales her face, Mummy Returns-style, but gets possessed by dark powers. Then our teen hero discovers the power was within him all along. From the director of the National Treasure series and the first 3 Ninjas.

Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002, Jay Roach)
Instead of the last ten minutes, I enjoyed the Tom Cruise / Gwynyth Paltrow / Kevin Spacey / Danny Devito / Steven Spielberg open and the Britney Spears / Quincy Jones credits sequence. If I hadn’t read the reviews when this came out, I’d gladly sit through the rest of this. While Myers has kept busy voicing cartoons lately, Roach made a Ben Stiller and a Steve Carell comedy, neither of which looks good.

Mercury Rising (1998, Harold Becker)
One of those generic-looking action thrillers from the late 90’s with a forgettable nonsense title. Alec Baldin is the government baddie, and after watching four seasons of 30 Rock I cannot deal with him in a straight role anymore. I thought Bruce Willis was doing pretty well in the 90’s – what would make him agree to something like this? The two stars are fighting on a greenscreen roof until Bruce saves the autistic kid who cracked some kinda government code according to the plot description, sending Alec to a gruesome death plummet. Becker also made other action thrillers with generic names like Sea of Love, Malice, City Hall and Domestic Disturbance.

Starship Troopers 3 (2008, Edward Neumeier)
Two women are praying, and a giant beastie made of dodgy CGI is arising from a volcano, until Casper Van Dien’s dodgy-CGI power suit comes and rescues them. Looks like the worst movie ever, and practically a cartoon with all the poorly-rendered graphics. Neumeier wrote the original Starship Troopers and Robocop, so he can’t be all bad, but he also wrote all their shameful sequels, so maybe he is.

The Funhouse (1981, Tobe Hooper)
Looks like our heroine (who played Mozart’s wife in Amadeus) has finally reached the breaking point into psychosis when presented with the dead body of her (husband? brother? best friend?) by a robot clown. After a long suspenseful chase sequence, a dude in a drooling latex mask catches up with her, but gets electrocuted and chewed up in some gears while she screams uselessly. Some heroine. A forgotten feature made by Tobe between Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist, from the writer of that gag 1990 Captain America movie.

Blood Creek (2009, Joel Schumacher)
The man once in charge of the Batman franchise is now making direct-to-video nazi zombie flicks? Apparently his career was destroyed not by his derided comic movies or his despicable follow-up 8mm, but by the 2004 Phantom of the Opera. Some people are running from the nazi, and some from the zombie, who has a wormie in his forehead just like Jeffrey Combs in From Beyond. Anyway, this looks no good, but at least the effects are better than the above three movies combined. From the “writer” of a whole bunch of remakes.

Stone (2010, John Curran)
Robert De Niro’s house is on fire! He rescues his wife, who gripes some religion at him. Flash forward, Rob is retiring, and is an asshole. Then he finds, and does not kill Ed Norton, who steps back into the shadows. Some stuff about redemption and god’s will, oh and here’s Milla Jehovavich finally, in a bar. The sound mixer thinks he’s all that. Was a time I wouldn’t have missed a De Niro/Norton movie, but that time was about a year before The Score came out. From director of The Painted Veil and writer of Junebug – weird combination.

War of the Worlds (2005, David Latt)
Another one of those quickie direct-to-video titles designed to confuse Blockbuster patrons looking for the Tom Cruise version. C. Thomas Howell plays substitute Tom Cruise here (he’s also sub-Jennifer Connelly in The Day The Earth Stopped and sub-Will Ferrell in The Land That Time Forgot). Some guy informs us D.C. is gone (budget filmmaker’s motto: tell, don’t show) and the rebellion is hiding out in the Blue Ridge mountains, and oh here’s Jake Busey as an authoritarian dick army man, cool. But Howell makes it to D.C., gazes at some CG backgrounds, crosses a bridge that crumbled in a totally believable way (destroyed but for a convenient walking path down the center), chats with a dying alien tripod (err, 4 or 5-pod) and is reunited with his family in the last minute. Just like the Spielberg version, except not any good. From the writer of The Da Vinci Treasure, AVH: Alien vs. Hunter and Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls.

Netflix Streaming has got a bunch more movies I would never pay to rent, but which I might watch for free if I was sick or something. I’m sick today, so here goes.

Prince of Persia (2010, Mike Newell)
I see ropes and swords and Lord of the Rings fire-sculptures, and holy crap is that Ben Kingsley?? Donnie Darko has a fake british accent, and he just let his girlfriend fall into the pit of hell before unleashing a crazy amount of ‘splosions and triggering a muted montage of flashback snippets. Then Donnie, who long ago became less cool than his big sister Maggie Darko, discovers that the movie was just a dream he saw in the handle of his magic dagger. All I remember from the video game is that your little man had a more human-like gait than was usual for video games, and it was incredibly hard to avoid falling into pits. As I type this, Donnie is telling a beardy fellow to “listen to your heart.” So it’s safe to say the movie isn’t much like the game, except when the girl fell into that pit.

The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009, Grant Heslov)
“Larry’s dead,” are the first words I hear… guess I won’t be seeing Kevin Spacey. Still holding out hope for Stephen Root, though. Oh wait, there’s Spacey now, wtf. Directed by an actor who played “guy in big suit” in Bug. There’s an LSD prank then all the army base’s goats and prisoners are set free. I’m not detecting much comedy in this comedy, so I guess it got dark and turned into a drama halfway through. Jeff Bridges and George Clooney escape in a chopper, Ewan provides poignant, anti-corporate-media voiceover, and it ends on a dud of a joke. Glad I didn’t sit through the rest of this.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009, Niels Oplev)
A pierced punk rock girl (a “rebellious computer hacker” according to the Netflix description) talking with her mama seems sad. Later, some blond woman is talking about being raped by her dad, cue spazzy flashback with bland music. Punk girl visits hospitalized boyfriend, drops off secret financial records, he writes an article causing a mogul to commit suicide, and punk girl steals a lot of money and escapes to a tropical paradise. Whole thing seems anticlimactic and unengaging. But I guess if The Da Vinci Code can be a huge success, so can this. Still, at least Da Vinci had a big ending (the codex is shattered! Amelie is Jesus’s daughter!) to justify all the dreary exposition. This one wasn’t even exciting enough for me to check out the last ten minutes of the sequels.

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009, Nishimura & Tomomatsu)
Dubbing!! The fakest CGI ever. Oh, this is one of those direct-to-video Japanese teen movies full of awful music where everyone wears school uniforms. It’s not even as good as Tokyo Gore Police (they share a director). “When you gave me that chocolate, I had no idea how you really felt about me” should not be one of the final lines of a movie with this title. Oh, and Vampire Girl decisively wins.

Factotum (2005, Bent Hamer)
Hooray, Lili Taylor! Long takes + poorly furnished rooms = gritty realism. Poor Charlie Bukowski is having money issues and lady issues. Matt Dillon gets life advice from “Old Black Man” (according to the credits) in the unemployment office, finally gets one of his stories published. I don’t find Dillon’s poetic voiceover very compelling. From the dude who made Kitchen Stories.

Ondine (2009, Neil Jordan)
She is telling fisherman Colin Farrell that she’s not a magical water creature, but just a girl who almost drowned while escaping from something or other. Uh oh, some fellows with pistols and strong accents. What is happening? Colin and the girl live, are getting married at the end. Jordan made a bunch of movies that always look somewhat intriguing but not quite essential.

The Day The Earth Stopped (2008, C. Thomas Howell)
If you start watching a movie ten minutes before the closing credits, the hero and villain are always in the middle of some revelatory exposition scene. All movies are the same. Should you really entrust the remake rights of The Day The Earth Stood Still to one of the teen actors from Red Dawn? Earth starts shaking (I’d hardly say it is standing still) and sepia-toned CGI versions of major world monuments (and a ferris wheel) are falling rapidly towards the camera. I was excited that Judd Nelson is in this, but I’d gotten him confused with Judge Reinhold – who is Judd Nelson? There is yelling and guns and terrible camerawork, then something really stupid happens and I guess the aliens don’t destroy Earth. Shame.

2012 (2009, Roland Emmerich)
Here’s a movie that isn’t afraid to let the world end, or to cast Oliver Platt! I don’t see world monuments crumbling, just a big Titanicky iceberg adventure (Roland must’ve had some ice left over from The Day After Tomorrow) with people yelling and swimming through tunnels to close or open portals and machinery. Oh, surviving mankind lives on arks now, and Africa turns out to be the future, or the home of the our civilization or something.

Salt (2010, Phillip Noyce)
Another movie with a third-billed Chiwetel Ejiofor, and more awful camerawork – only this time it’s awful in a big-budget extreme-cutting sense, not the give-an-idiot-a-camera awfulness of The Day The Earth Stopped. Ooh, the president is down. A. Jolie, handcuffed in FBI custody, still manages to kill Liev Schreiber, whoever he is. The backstory exposition comes a couple minutes late in this movie, then noble Chiwetel lets Jolie escape to kill again. From the writer of Equilibrium (and Ultraviolet, yuck) and director of Rabbit Proof Fence (and Sliver).

Red Dragon (2002, Brett Ratner)
Emily Watson is in a super intense burning-house scene, then a big fake explosion knocks down Ed Norton. This movie marked the end of my needing to see everything Norton was in (Keeping the Faith and The Score had already lowered expectations). Ed’s in the William Petersen role (WP’s on a cop show now). After he and Raiff Fiennes shoot each other to death, we see ol’ Hopkins (in the Brian Cox role) writing letters, and oh Ed isn’t dead actually, and it ends with a cheese-headed transition into an early scene from Silence of the Lambs. Doesn’t look bad, really, but as with all Ratner movies it is not to be taken seriously.

“This life came so close to never happening.”

A movie about sadness and mourning, loss and bad decisions, real friends and sham friends. Picked this as the first of my Seven Favorite Movies To Show Katy but forgot to mention to her that it’s my favorite heartbreakingly sad movie and that I can start crying at work just by thinking too hard about it. Oops! Still, a little sadness can be good for you and once she stopped crying Katy said it was a good movie.

Came out late 2002 and proceeded to be pretty much ignored. Won two awards for best music score and some film festival in Barcelona gave Edward Norton “best foreign actor”. I guess it was nominated for a golden bear in Berlin, beaten out by Michael Winterbottom.

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D. Edelstein doesn’t think the 9/11-WTC connections belong in the film: “The story of 25th Hour is fueled by the threat of anal rape: It’s what preoccupies Monty, and it’s the heart of the sexual-panic motif that runs (subtly, mischievously) through the screenplay.”

Where Are They Now: writer David Benioff put an X-Men reference into his “25th Hour” script (which starred two X-Men movie vets) and is now writing the Wolverine movie. Good job. Spike’s doing a TV movie with Amy Ryan and a WWII movie set in Italy, and I still feel bad for never watching When The Levees Broke. The “sheeeeeeeeeit” detective was on The Wire, Rosario Dawson may or may not be in Sin City 2 or 3, Anna Paquin’s starring in a TV show and Ed Norton is HULK.