2000 – present: blurbs

dangerous lives of altar boys. 2002. the adaptation of chris fuhrman’s only novel omits much of the controversy (racism and sexual discovery). four catholic school boys’ adolescent trials and subversion model a comic book they create. the main characters of this story– best friends tim and francis–essentially have different views with the events that transpire, with tim often guided by the principal of an ultimate revolt against absurd rules. with emille hirsch, kieran culkin, jena malone, jodi foster and vincent d’onofrio. similar to heaven help us! (1985).

saved! 2004. a parochial schoolgirl who gets pregnant when trying to “reform” her gay befriend befriends the class deviants and questions the tenants of her religion. with jena malone, mandy moore, eva amurri, maculay culkin and patrick fugit.

igby goes down. 2002. a depressing drama from weeds, the l word and big love director, burr steers. after getting expelled from yet another private school, igby slocumb desperately vows to escape from his vicious, dysfunctional family which include a dying mother, neurotic father, vindictive godfather and arrogant brother. with kieran culkin, susan sarandon, jeff goldbum, bill pullman, ryan phillipe, amanda peet and claire danes.

L.I.E. 2001. ” on the long island expressway there are lanes going east, lanes going west, and lanes going straight to hell.” indie drama about a bright, but alienated teen who, betrayed by his father and friend, befriends an elderly hustler who fills the void of social relationship and restores his sense of trust. swell early performance by paul dano. with brian cox.

ghost world. 2000. based on daniel clowe’s comic book, best friends enid and rachel drift apart after high school graduation. rachel splits time between a thankless barista job and shopping for apartment to share with enid. stagnate enid, however, still unemployed and reluctant to move out of her clueless father’s house becomes increasingly alienated, coping with her “ghost world” by befriending the equally adolescent, middle-aged seymour. with thora birch, scarlett johansson, steve buscemi and brad renfro.

garden state. 2004. zach braff’s writing and directorial debut center on an emotionally void young man who returns to his new jersey hometown when his mother dies. there, he befriends a charismatic free-spirit who changes his outlook. though the film was lauded for originality, it succumbs to clichéd, melodramatic finales and the commentary itself becomes standard of braff who follows with the last kiss. with natalie portman and peter sarsgaard.

door in the floor. 2004. a severely dysfunctional family have a bizarre way of coping with the loss of their teen son when a weird, alcoholic writer hires a teen intern to “comfort” his lonely wife. with jeff bridges and kim basinger.

the son’s room. 2001. a bloody slow italian drama centers on a family therapist trying to cope with the accidental death of his teenage son. with nanni moretti.

imaginary heroes. 2004. depressing clichéd indie film yet again delivers the theme of suburban family dystopia where one family drops their charade of the perfect family after the eldest son, a star athlete, commits suicide. replete with enough tragedy to make a talk show host’s head spin. with sigourney weaver, jeff daniels and emille hirsch.

pieces of april. 2003. indie goes feel-good when an uneasy past family relationship (especially with her callous mother) and numerous cooking obstacles threaten a young woman’s thanksgiving dinner to which she invites her cynical family. nice performance by katie holmes. with derek luke, patricia clarkson and oliver platt.

the return. 2003. a russian drama about the return of two young brothers’ father after a mysterious 12-year absence. it primarily takes place on an endless car trip that proves to be a failed bonding effort because of the skeptical youngest son, played the talented vladimir garin. ivan dobronravov (the older brother) drowned shortly after completing the film.

undertow. 2004. mixed reviews with two counts against it for the DVDs anti-piracy PSA and an unnecessarily long second act in an otherwise intense thriller. a violent ex-convict shows up at his brother and nephew’s small town home demanding his share of his father’s mexican gold coin collection. with jamie bell, dermont mulroney and josh lucas.

five aces. 2000. five friends gathering at a cabin to commemorate their friend’s last weekend of bachelorhood feel obligated to morn lost opportunities ala diner (1982), shaking the tree (1992), queens logic (1991) and the big chill (1983). with charlie sheen and christopher macdonald.

the dreamers. 2003. the latest soft porn boredom from ‘last tango in paris’ director bernardo bertolucci paralells y tu mama tambien (2002). set in 1960s france, incestual siblings befriend a young american man and daydream through on-going political turmoil with games of “doctor” in their parents’ apartment until the american tries to turn them onto reality. with micahel pitt.

chelsea walls. 2001. director ethan hawke’s horribly boring “artsy” movie (mostly due to lengthy improvisation and poor editing) centers on several residents of new yorks famous chelsea hotel long before became a yuppie condoiminium in queens. with uma thurman, kris kristofferson, robert sean leonard and rosario dawson.

highway. 2002. self-indulgent and cliched indie. two friends flee town for an impromptu roadtrip when one is caught sleeping with a guy’s wife. a nomadic young woman soon joins them and forces them to reconsider their friendship as they head to grunge country. with jared leto, jake gyllenhaal and selma blair.

better luck tomorrow. 2002. a failmir story that exploits too many asian stereotypes and is fraught with unsympathetic characters and moral ambiguity. over-achieving, arrogant upper class high schoolers supposedly battling the boredom of suburban living form a petty theft gang whose pursuits eventually turn deadly. with john cho.

requiem for a dream. 2000. achieving cult fame for pi (1998), the gritty indie thriller about a math wiz paranoid of being followed by agents ala a beautiful mind (2001), darren aronofsky directs this drama of four people struggle with dangerous addiction. sets editing precedents beyond trainspotting (1996). with ellyn burstyn, jennifer connelly, jared leto, marlon wayans and christopher macdonald. similar to spun (2002), which follows several speed addicts in the course of three days. with jason schwartzman, brittany murphy, patrick fugit, john leguizamo and debbie harry.

prozac nation. 2001. painfully boring and depressing drama based on writer elizabeth wurtzel’s eventual prozac addiction following intense psychological problems rooted in a non-existent relationship with her parents. filled with lots of screaming and cinematic trickey, the film is riddled in reptition and self-indulgence. with christina ricci, jessica lange, michelle williams and jon rhys-meyers.

macarthur park. 2001. an indie drama directed by billy wirth (of the lost boys). a homeless man is summoned by his estranged son who informs him that his mother died and he intends to sell their house. asked by his son to return home, the father, a coke addict, first says no. but a series of to follow force him to reconsider. with thomas jefferson byrd, brandon quentin adams (the sandlot) balthazaar ghetty and david faustino.

manic. 2001. an angry teen is placed in an institution after nearly beating a kid to death. he’s forced to sort out his problems, reluctantly so, as he gets to know the residents. filmed in very annoying shaking digital format for that documentary feel. terrific job by joseph gordon levitt and don cheadle.

mean creek. 2004. intending harmless revenge on a schoolyard bully a group of friends have invited on a boating trip, tensions soon flare and things turn deadly. a by-the-book youth character study still offers great performances and great scenery (oregon wilderness filmed in trademark indie blue tint). with rory culkin and trevor morgan.

the united states of leland. 2003. “cause this is my united states of whatever!” a young man narrates his remorseless days after beating a kid to death. with ryan gosling, don cheadle and jena malone.

elephant. 2003. reacting to numerous school shootings, gus van sant presents a tedious, but no less schocking day at a high school which culminates in tragedy. despite the intention for authentic presentation, the plot is filled with stereotypes, and particularly those to explain the violence. with john robinson.

bully. 2001. kids director, larry clark presents another disturbing portrayal of the adolescent wasteland based on the true story of a group of florida teens who kill their sadistic, violent friend. with nick stahl and brad renfro.

antitrust. 2001. a predictable, but solid corporate thriller that captures both microsoft’s ruthless competitive strategy and the principals of digital free culture. a programming prodigy learns that his employer is murdering competitors and closely monitoring him. with ryan phillipe, rachel leigh cook and tim robbins.

a decade under the influence. 2003. “this revolution will be televised.” director ted demme’s last movie was a great documentary about several guerilla american filmmakers inspired by french and italian new wave cinema of the ’60s, hijacking the camera for new styles and controversial subjects uncommon to the bland mainstream particularly during the mccarthy years. with modern mainstream and indie cinema repeateing history, a real-life sequel is long overdue.

cecil b. demented. 2000. fairly decent satire from writer/director john waters. young guerilla filmmakers, enraged with mediocre mainstream movies, kidnap a hollywood actress for their highly publicized movement. with stephen dorff, melanie griffith, adrian grenier and maggie gyllenhaal.

wasabi. 2001. a french detective learns of the death of his ex-girlfriend who leaves him a key, a large sum of money, and custody of their teen daughter who is living in japan. there, he attempts to bond with her while investigating the death. some of the dialog, despite dubbing, is difficult to follow. with jean reno.

orwell rolls in his grave. 2004. as bernie sanders of vermont says, “the system is hands off,” but this underrated documentary crucifies it, exploring the “deregulation” of mass media and resulting manipulation of public policy and revealing paralells to orwell’s allegory, 1984 in ways less condescending than michael moore’s films.

outfoxed. 2004. regular political documentarian director robert greenwald provides a proper handbook for significant problems with mainstream news. though it focuses on the procedural foul plays of the fox network, most television new programs deserve similar blame.

the corporation. 2003. the broad documentary about corporate profiteering at the expense of humanity covers familiar territory for regular consumers of progressive news and documentary programs, though this might have fared better as a more developed series of mini-documentaries.

surpersize me. 2004. morgan spurlock’s mcfamous microcosm of corporate malfeasance pre-dating the release of richard linklater’s fast food nation likewise promotes individual responsibility. after two obese girls failed to show cause for their negligence claims against mcdonald’s, spurlock assumes a thirty day mickey d’s diet while exploring numerous aspects of the fast food industry.

bartelby. 2001. a funny pithy adaptation of herman melville’s short story, “bartelby the scrivener.” an efficient public records office soon falls into disarray when a usually obedient new employee refuses to do his job. the special features of the dvd contain a short feature on the theramin, which was used to compose the film’s soundtrack. with crispin glover, david paymer, glenne headly, symour cassell, joe piscopo and maury chaykin.

howl’s moving castle. 2004. hayao miyazaki’s amazing, unique modern fairytale unfortunately suffers from a sappy ending. a young maiden trying to break the curse of a scheming sorcerer finds work aboard a floating castle where she befriends a young warrior who is unaware of the indirection connection to her. american voices provided by christian bale, lauren bacall and billy crystal.

the triplettes of belleville. 2004. fresh, french surrealist cartoon. petite madam souza is helped by three old burlesque singers to rescue her son who’s been kidnapped by the mob during the tour de france. models the animation and storytelling technique of ralph bakshi’s movies, american pop (1981) (superbly animated feature traces the evolution of music through four generations of fathers and sons), hey good lookin (1982) (crude humor comedy about a few street hoods who’s chauvinism get them in major trouble with a rival gang), heavy traffic (1973) (live-action parallels the animated story of anew york cartoonist’s attempt to stay afloat in a city full of sleazebags), wizards! (1977) (doppelganger brothers in a post-apocalyptic setting battle each other to determine the future of the world), and fritz the cat (1972), among others.

connie and carla. 2004. more feel-good comedy from my big fat greek wedding writer, nia vardalos. two aspiring stage actresses who witness a murder take hide out in another town, disguising themselves as drag queens. but their successful stage show threatens to blow their cover. vardalos and toni collett give excellent performances, but david duchovny provides terrible deadpan.

japanese story. 2003. toni collette provers her skill and versatility in an unfortunately slow-moving drama. a geologist reluctantly agrees to chauffer their client’s agent, a japanese businessman, around the outback. frustrated at first by the lack of communication and common interest, they soon fall in love.

kitchen stories. 2003. set in the 1950s, a swedish kitchen design comedy hires scientists to observe the domestic habits of norweigan men. one man, assigned to an initially stubborn host, breaks the rules prohibiting interaction with subjects, and forges a friendship. pleasant comedy, but slow to start.

mr. bean’s holiday. 2007. rowan atkinson’s dufus slapstick character, mr. bean, is derivative of both peter seller’s character, hrundi bakshi, in blake edward’s the party (1968) and jacques tati’s title character of mr. hulot’s holiday (1953). mr. bean is on his way to the cannes film festival after winning a sweepstakes drawing. but his usual obliviousness leaves him stranded with a russian director’s son who authorities mistkanely assume he has kidnapped. willem defoe is terrific as the self-indulgent american director participating at cannes.

welcome to colinwood. 2002. a convict learns from a prisonmate of a hidden stash of money. while his girlfriend tries to recruit a stoolie from the outside, there are soon more people involved in the scheme than becomes manageable. with luis guzman, william h. macy, and same rockwell. similar to director louis malle’s crackers (1984), the woody allen comedy, small time crooks (2004), and the fantastically written coen brothers remake of the ladykillers (2000), all of which is in turn a parody of stanley kubrick’s 1956 crime thriller, the killing.

lock, stock and two smoking barrels. 2000. director guy ritchie’s hilarious interwoven tales of welcomed mishaps. a hothead card player loses a serious hand of cards to a ruthless gangster gets his friends involved in quickly getting together the large sum of money owed to him in a few days. luck, however, may be on their side when a chain of events are set off by dumb and cocky henchmen. with jason stratham and dexter fletcher. followed by guy ritchie’s star vehicle gangster comedy, snatch (2003), which follows nearly the same pattern of its predecessor, except add a gangster with a gambling addiction, a gypsy bare-knuckle boxing champ, and a few other odd characters. with jason stratham, vinnie jones, brad pitt, benicio del torro and dennis farina. similar follies occur in the more seriously toned british thriller, layer cake (2004). a coke dealer expects early retirement until his boss calls on him for a new “assignment”. with daniel craig and the interchangeable british gangster cast also featured in the aforementioned movies.

the man who wasn’t there. 2001. a beautifully shot black and white coen brothers noir-thriller. a livid barber kills his wife’s lover, but she becomes the prime suspect. appropriately, hair is quite symbolic here. with billy bob thorton and frances macdormand.

criminal. 2004. a remake of the clever argentinian thriller, nine queens (2000). an overconfident, middle-age con artist meets a young grifter who becomes his apprentice and later, partner for a counterfeit gig. with john c. riely, diego luna and maggie gyllenhaal. simlar to david mamet’s excellent thriller-noir, house of games (1987). in preparation for a book, a psychiatrist thinks a con man that she meets in a bar one evening is teaching her the tricks of his trade. with joe mantegna and lindsey crouse.

tape. 2001. richard linklater’s adaptation of a play centers on a few characters and a simple setting. on the eve of a reunion, a guy’s plan to get an old high school friend to admit he raped a girl they knew in high school actually backfires. with ethan hawke, robert sean leonard and umma thurman. daring viewers might also try linklater’s experimental babble-a-thon in existentialism with cult films slacker (1991) and waking life (2001).

alexandra’s project. 2003. an interesting australian independent drama that challenges viewer’s sympathies and conventions to the very end. arriving home to an empty house one night on his birthday, a man finds a video cassette which he assumes is a gift from his kids, but soon becomes clear is a shocking message from his wife.

art school confidential. 2006. ” who said anything about talent?” terrific black comedy mockery from comic book author daniel clowes (ghost world) centers on the unusual results of competition by freshman students at an art school. with john malkovich.

barbershop. 2002. good comedy avoids most of the stereotypes of young blacks (except the one about barbershops) and centers on the employees of a struggling southside chicago parlo where the owner risks losing his family’s business to a loan shark. with ice cube, cedric, sean patric thomas and eve. followed by the more tightly written barbershop 2: back in business (2004). the shop struggles for survival once again, but this time, they’re up against a crooked city mayor and lack of support for local business. some unnecessary humor, but overall, a good sequel. with queen latifah.

swimming pool. 2003. kind of a british/french version of the mediocre johnny depp thriller secret window (2004). a british writer preparing her latest novel undertakes the project at her publisher’s french villa, which she soon reluctantly shares with his promiscuous daughter. but of course, things are not always as they seem. with charlotte rampling.

hot fuzz. 2006. edgar wright and shaun pegg, the masterminds behind shaun of the dead, return with another genre spoof in the story of an ace cop who is transfered from london to a precinct in rural england because his successes were just making everyone “look bad.” although bored with the transfer, the ace cop keeps aware of the subtle activity of the country folk, convinced that the sleepy town is hiding a dangerous secret. applies similar gags to ‘shaun of the dead’, but a dragging final act keeps it from being as impeccable as its zombie parody predecessor. with nick frost.

running scared. 2006. well-written nicely paced low-budget action-thriller filmed in new jersey and czechoslovakia centers on the constant exchange of a gun that links a gangster to a murder. it begins with a young neighbor of a man involved in the crime who finds the gun and is force to pull it on his violent step-father. when the kid flees afterwards, encountering one sleazebag after another, the man goes looking for him in the hopes of recovering the gun. quite the bloody finale. with paul walker.

the glass house. 2001. decent, but predictable thriller with a strong female lead. a teen suspects her foster parents of violent foul play when they pamper she and her brother with gifts but to fail to mention the inheritance left by their deceased parents. with lelee sobieski, stellan skarsgaard and bruce dern.

chuck and buck. 2000. some creepy ass shit. chuck and buck, childhood friends, are reunited when buck’s mother dies. chuck finds buck in perpetual adolescence and worse, with an eerie homoerotic fixation on chuck which first inspires him to move to the same town and later, to write a play about his fantasies. you might need to recover with a comedy.

the clearing. 2004. a woman learns that her husban has been kidnapped by his former employee who turns the event into a test of morals and trial of judgement. with helen mirren, robert redford and willem defoe.

man on fire. 2004. a remake of the late 80s italian caper attempts to be avante garde with some elements, but is repetitive with others. a suicidal cop plays bodyguard to a young girl in mexico city where kidnapping is rampant. unable to protect her, he vows merciless revenge which consumes most of the plot. with denzel washington, datoa fanning and marc antony.

murder by design. 2002. surprisingly well-written british thriller laiden with numerous plot twists as betrayal accumulates in an insurance scam initially intended to help a friend pay for his medical coverage.

facade. 2000. “sex. murder. lunacy.” thriller comedy reminiscent of two days in the valley (1996) with a great mix of characters shines after a slow start. two real estate speculators kill their partner, but attempts to murder his wife backfire. with eric roberts, brad garett and rain phoenix.

death proof. 2007. the tarantino directed second feature in grindhouse (2007) centers on a gearhead who gets off on psychologically (and physically) tormenting young girls chases potential victims who put up a worthy fight. contains a cherry car chase best viewed on the big screen. with kurt russell, zoe bell and rosario dawson.

death at a funeral. 2006. amusing british comedy directed by frank oz. a man’s youngest son trying to prepare his funeral finds things further complicated by financial problems that he can’t tell his wife about when she keeps bothering him about securing the bid for a house, a midget claiming to be the father’s lover who blackmails the sons for monetary compensation, and doubts that he could deliver a better eulogy than his best-selling author brother, among other things.

the darjeeling limited. 2007. roman coppola, jason schwartzman and wes anderson partner for a colorful, dry comedy not quite as outrageous as previous wes anderson-directed tales like rushmore (1998) and the life aquatic with steve zisou (2004). not having seen each other since their father’s funeral, three estranged brothers reunite on a train bound for india at the request of one who has planned the sojourn to visit their mother. beautifully shot, though something lengthier than necessary. with owen wilson, adrian brody, jason schwartzman and angelica huston.

bend it like beckham. 2002. director gurinder chada’s best. a young hindi girl is an avid footballer, but her protectionist parents forbid her from playing on an amateur girls team out of fear of cultural abandonment and persecution, making it similar to my big fat greek wedding (2002). great performances and soundtrack, and the dvd special features include chada’s instructions for making aloo gobi. with parminder nagra, kiera knightley and john rhys-meyers.

a gentleman’s game. 2001. based on tom coyne’s novel, a teen befriends an idyllic, retired golfer and questions the adults of the posh country club his father intends when they permit racism. with mason gamble and gary sinise.

levelland. 2003. a good, though somewhat forced drama from writer/director clark walker mixes skate footage and punk ethic in a commentary on the “wal-martization of life” via the story of skater teens living in a sleepy texas suburb. good soundtrack features the minutemen. with the gorgeous matt barr.

grind. 2003. an idiotic comedy that unfortunately stresses sponsorship over skating for fun. a young skater wanting the attention of his favorite pro suggests that he and his misfit friends tour the country in skating contests. the filmmakers focused too much on referencing other movies, crowd pleasing, and of course, indulging nauseating cliches. with adam brody and bam margera.

stoked: the rise and fall of gator. 2003. helen stickler’s documentary is less about vision skateboard’s former glory boy, mark “gator” ragowski who is serving time for murdering his girlfriend, and instead serves as an overview about the evolution of skateboarding from vert to street as well as being a caution for young folks faced with fast fame. lots of interviews from skate pros, old and new.

dogtown and z-boys. 2001. stacey peralta’s exhilerating documentary about the legendary z-boys–the southern cali misfit skaters who’s publicity helped revived skateboarding and forced it beyond the 1960s paradigm of nose wheelies and headstands. extensive skate footage, plenty of interviews from the z-boys (and z-girl peggy oki) as well as those inspired by their craft (including ian mackaye and henry rollins and the editor of thrasher magazine aside from the usual suspect of tony hawk). narrated by sean penn. avoid the needlessly repetitious and poorly done lords of dogtown (2005) which ignores focus on both the sport and the team’s skaters outside of tony alva, jay adams and stacey peralta (who has the screenwriting credits for this). directed by the overrated catherine hardwick. with emile hirsch, heath ledger and john robinson.

riding with giants. 2004. stacey peralta continues to impress with his homage to big wave surfers. great history lesson, plus a fantastic soundtrack, footage and extensive interviews.

blue crush. 2002. based on the magazine article “surf girls of maui,” director john stockwell’s ridiculously derivative love story surf drama almost exactly recreates the scenes of its original sources. a talented female surfer concentrating on the upcoming pipeline championship is distracted by her relationship with a wealthy football player who visits the island. with kate boswell and michelle rodriguez.

local boys. 2002. eric olsen hams up the story of two surfer brothers. basically, it’s a film about the younger brother befriending an aging surfer who serves as the new paternal figure in his life. with jeremy sumpter and mark harmon.

primer. 2004. innovative, low-budget indie flick recommended for mechanical engineers and those familiar with time travel theory since the numerous plot twists are lots in too much technical jargon. two engineers inventing a refrigeration device learn of its dramatic time traveling capabilities for which one has dangerously ulterior motives.

eagle v. shark. 2007. a new zealand comedy grounded in the “indie” standard of comical nonsense, endearing innocence, and childish adults that made napoleon dynamite (2004) a cult favorite. a timid woman who befriends an eccentric man accompanies him to his hometown where he intends to avenge an old schoolyard bully. when a rift occurs between them, awry family dynamics, particularly between the young man and his father, help draw them together. with flight of the conchords co-star jermaine clement and loren horsley.

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