The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Painfully Slow but Poignantly Beautiful

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Starring Mathieu Amalric and Max Van Sydow
Directed by Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls)
Rated PG-13 for nudity, sexual content and some language
Appropriate for ages 17+
Available April 29, 2008 on standard DVD only
French with English subtitles (all special features in English)

In November I sat down to try to watch this film, and I’ll admit that I didn’t make it through thirty minutes before I had to stop.  Diving Bell follows the real life of Jean Dominique Bauby, the director of French Elle.  At a relatively young age, he suffered a massive stroke and lived the rest of his life only able to blink one eye.  With that one eye, he managed to write a book (through a transcriptionist of course) and inspire millions.  The dilemma is that the movie is told from Bauby’s point of view looking out of his one good eye.  It is painfully slow to say the least.  But purposefully though.  The film makers felt that in order to make you connect to Bauby, they needed you to feel his pain.  When you do, the movie becomes a surreal and powerful experience.  You will laugh, cry, and become pretty much emotionally unstable throughout the 112 minutes.  I’ve seen the film twice since and each time was a moving adventure. 

I will warn you – be in the right mood to watch this film, or you will be miserable.  Think of it like you would a museum.  With the right mood it can be an unforgettable event.  With the wrong mood you will have just wasted your time a money. 

Special features here are worth a look.  There are a couple of short and sweet documentaries on the fascinating making of the film, an interview with Charlie Rose, and a great commentary by director/painter Julian Schnabel.  As a side note, while the film is in French, Julian is very American and did his undergrad at the University of Houston. 

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay – Turning Over a New Leaf

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay     B-

Starring John Cho, Kal Penn, and Neil Patrick Harris
Directed by Hayden Schlossberg (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle)
Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language and drug use
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: Leaving off exactly where the first film ended, Harold and Kumar head to Amsterdam so that Harold can have a chance with the love of his life that he doesn’t know yet.  While on the plane, though, Kumar tries to smoke pot on the plane, and the device used gets mistaken for a bomb.  So, the two titular characters are sent to Guantanamo where they immediately escape and begin their journey to clear their tarnished names.

The Good: Even more so than the first flick, this new chapter is one of the most shocking comedies I have seen.  I thought the Apatow bunch was raunchy, but these guys take the cake. 

Some of the humor is intelligent and the audience covered up much of the dialogue with their laughing out loud.  It helps that  Cho, Penn, and NPH are all very likable, and that the writing is extremely over-the-top. 

In a summer where stoner movies attempt to make a comeback (Pineapple Express and The Whackness are soon to hit theaters as well), this is a worthy addition to the genre, and should leave the other pics with big shoes to fill. 

The Bad: As you would expect, this is a silly, silly film filled with sitcom-like plot points that inorganically get you from one scene to the next.  If you want a more intelligent dirty comedy, turn to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which contains a much better written story with far more convincing performances.  But if Doogie Howser and dime bags are more your thing, then this film will most likely hit the spot. 

The Summary: Harold and Kumar bring us one heck of a guilty pleasure with the next chapter of their stoner saga. 

Forgetting Sarah Marshall – Unforgetable

Forgetting Sarah Marshall    A

Starring Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, and Mila Kunis
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Rated R for sexual content, language, and some graphic nudity
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: When Peter (Segel) is dumped by his famous TV-star girlfriend Sarah (Bell), he tries to fight his depression by taking a trip to Hawaii.  Unfortunately, Sarah and her new rock-star boyfriend are staying at the same resort, and Peter is forced to accept his situation and try to move on.

The Good: Almost everything producer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) touches is comedy gold (with the possible exception of Drillbit Taylor), and this is no different.  Here we are exposed (no pun intended) to a another lovable but flawed character with real pain in his life that we can’t help but laugh at.  The situations don’t feel fake in the least and this believability helps us, as the audience, to relate and empathize with poor Peter and cheer him on as he tries to get another girl that is way out of his league (Kunis).  
    What I am most shocked about here is how a little-known actor can actually make for such a great lead in a big movie.  Seth Rogen did it in Knocked Up, Jonah Hill and Michael Cera did it in Superbad, and now Jason Segel pulls it off with power in this project.  
    As an aside, if you find you like all of the above mentioned films and want to see where Segel and Rogen got their start, check out the DVD of the brilliant Apatow-produced TV show Freaks and Geeks.  It’s another one of those great shows that couldn’t find an audience at the time, but has done not-surprisingly well now that the kids have come of age. 

The Bad: If you thought 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad were too racy, then stay way-clear from this one.  This is a very adult comedy that probably came very close to an NC-17 rating due to it’s sexual nature.  That being said, the sexual situations and nudity are done for laughs and are far from sexy, but the skin has the potential to offend a lot of viewers.

The Summary: This is an unbelievably and unforgettably funny film.

Juno – A Teenage Comedy For Adults


Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, and Jennifer Garner
Directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking)
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content, and language
Appropriate for ages 15+
Available April 15, 2008 on single-disc DVD, two-disc DVD and Blu-ray disc

Juno follows the life of a sixteen-year-old girl, named Juno (Page), that gets pregnant and decides to give up her baby to a couple that can’t have their own children (Bateman and Garner).  While that doesn’t sound like the makings of a comedy, it turns out to a refreshing laugher full of incredibly witty dialogue by first time and Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody.  I will admit, though, that multiple viewings can get annoying, and the special features included are a little too self-absorbed.  There seems to be more patting themselves on the back and less film-crafting.  It’s as if they are obsessed with how well the film has done financially rather than how the film was made.  One very cool feature here though is the inclusion of a copy of the movie that you can legally put on your Ipod or other video device (only available on the two-disc and blu-ray editions).

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – Twenty Years Fly By

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen 20th Anniversary Edition

Starring John Neville, Eric Idle, Robin Williams, and Uma Thurman
Directed by Terry Gilliam (The Fisher King)
Rated PG
Appropriate for all ages
Available April 8, 2008 on DVD and Blu-ray disc

Yes, it’s been twenty years since Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam gave us this classic family film about a crazy German Baron and how he uses his imagination to defeat the evil Turks.  The film holds up surprisingly well and doesn’t look overly dated.  I think I had just as much fun watching it now as I did when I was in high school.  The DVD contains many great extras including a terrific commentary by Gilliam and writer/actor Charles McKeown, three exhaustive documentaries on the making of the pic, storyboard sequences performed by the voices of Gilliam and McKeown, and some deleted scenes.  For those with the Blu-ray disc, you can watch the movie with the Marvelous World of Munchausen, where Monte Python-style graphics pop up on the screen to give factoids about the movie while you are watching. 

Street Kings – A List Actors, B Movie Performances

Street Kings     D-

Starring Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, and Hugh Laurie
Directed by David Ayer (writer of Training Day)
Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: A dirty cop (Reeves), working with a team of dirty cops (everyone else in the film), finds himself growing a conscience when an ex-partner is killed by a couple of gang-bangers.  Meanwhile, his current partners and boss (Whitaker) are trying to cover up the messes he leaves behind.  Hot on everyone’s trail is the chief of internal affairs (Laurie). 

The Good: The film has a few interesting moments and images, such as man rolling into a razor wire fence and a dead shark floating in an aquarium.  Also, the action is constant which doesn’t allow the film to get overly boring.

The Bad: I can’t decide which is worse: the writing, the directing, or the acting.  All three are so equally bad. 

The story lends itself out for predictability in the first act, and the dialogue is embarrassingly stereotypical.  Predicting the ending will not make you seem even slightly clever. 

The directing is flawed throughout, including a humorously bad scene where Keanu’s nurse girlfriend tries to take care of his gun-shot arm by wrapping it with a roll of gauze without cleaning it or removing a bullet.  Mind you, this only one of many bad examples.

The acting shows the poor ability of the performers to phone in their roles.  This film has Eric Roberts and Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson straight-to-DVD written all over it and it’s sad that the filmmakers didn’t realize this before hiring and shooting such a talented cast of actors.

The Summary:   This is a true stinker that could have you running for the doors long before it’s over.

There Will Be Blood – Church vs. Slate

There Will Be Blood

Starring Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Dano, and Dillon Freasier
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch Drunk Love)
Rated R for some violence
Appropriate for ages 15+
Available April 8, 2008 on Single DVD and 2-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD

Upon first seeing this film about a turn-of-the-century oilman fighting with the church in the theater, I didn’t know how to take it.  I have to admit that for several days, I didn’t like it.  Many aspects bugged me.  Sure, Daniel Day Lewis turns in one of the greatest performance ever seen on a big screen, but between the downer of an ending and the disonant music by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, it was a hard film to stomach.  Then, after a few days and even weeks, the film started growing on me.  There are so many facets that hit you long after the credits roll.  I had to see it again, and the second time – I found a new appreciation for it.  I found myself wanting to study it and now, after several viewings, I can truly say that I absolutely love this remarkable film.  It’s not an easy pic to watch, but it is very rewarding.  The extras on the second disc aren’t great.  There is a 1920’s silent film about oil production with Greenwood’s score playing in the background, and a couple of deleted scenes (which you can catch on the internet), but probably not enough to warrant purchasing the 2-disc set.

Leatherheads – Pigskin Paradise

Leatherheads     A-

Starring George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, and John Krasinski
Directed by George Clooney (Good Night, and Good Luck)
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
Appropriate for ages 10+

The Story: In 1925, the entire professional football league was in a state of collapse.  Dodge Connelly (Clooney), a charming yet brash player is convinced that he can save the league by pulling in a big college player from Princeton (Krasinski) that is capable of filling stadiums.  Unfortunately, a cute little Chicago reporter (Zelleweger) is following their team in the hopes of bringing down the reputation of the new star player. 

The Good: From the very beginning this film comes across as a purely entertaining experience sure to put a big, cheesy smile on anyone’s face.  Clooney’s performance is every bit as good as his turn in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and the rest of the cast backs him up just fine.  There were several occasions where I couldn’t help but laugh way-out-loud.

The Bad: The part of the plot dealing with bringing down the young player’s rep gets a bit tired and slows the pacing down considerably.  A fifteen minute trim could have made this film a classic. 

The Summary: Clooney and gang turn this intelligent sports comedy into a fun and enjoyable escapade. 

Sweeney Todd – Cannibal the Musical

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Sacha Baron Cohen
Directed by Tim Burton
Rated R for graphic bloody violence
Appropriate for ages 16+
Available April 1, 2008 on DVD

Already on DVD is Burton’s version of Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical about a revenge-driven barber and the pastry shop owner that turns the barber’s customers into meat pies.  Visually captivating, this is Burton and Depp at their best.  Sure, the vocals aren’t what you’d hope for, but they are far from bad and the overall experience is as entertaining as it is creepy.  The disc contains tons of extras including a great doc on the legend of Sweeney.  Was he real or just fiction used to scare children?  You’ll have to watch the disc to find out.