Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2006)

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story: 2006, dir. Michael Winterbottom. Seen Oct. 25, 2005 at The Paramount (Austin Film Festival).
I tried to read the book Tristram Shandy a few years ago. I remember taking it to brunch at Z Tejas downtown, back when I liked to go out to brunch alone every weekend. It was one of the few times I sat at a table and not at a bar; I guess my favorite bartender at the time wasn’t there. Or maybe the bar was just too crowded that day.
I remember, also, that it was one of the few times I strayed from the gloriousness of the breakfast quesadilla, my favorite brunch treat at Z Tejas. (The corned-beef hash is pretty good too, though.) I had the Navajo tacos, on someone’s recommendation. I didn’t like them much at all. The fried spinach thing just weirded me out. It was not a successful meal, although normally I’m quite fond of Z Tejas … the one downtown, that is. The north location, although closer to our house, has abysmal acoustics and I nearly lose my voice if I try to hold a conversation in there.
So perhaps that fateful brunch affected my opinion of Tristram Shandy. Admittedly I thought the book would be a straightforward narrative comedy like Tom Jones. I had no idea what I was getting into. All the digressions started to annoy me. Were we ever going to get to the character’s birth? I finally gave up in frustration, perhaps a quarter of the way through the book. I realized that the whole point of the book was to be one long series of digressions, but I still wanted some linear action of some kind, and I never could motivate myself to finish the book. I suspected that the narrator never would get past the birth.

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Serenity (2005)

Serenity: 2005, dir. Joss Whedon. Seen on DVD (Dec. 30, 2005).
I heard a lot about Serenity even before its release, because I have many friends who are loopy for anything touched by Joss Whedon. They were terribly excited that a movie was being made from Whedon’s science-fiction TV series Firefly. Serenity had a lot of sneak previews in select cities long before its release date, presumably to build up word-of-mouth. What it did was confirm to many of us non-fans that Serenity would appeal strictly to fans. The trailers we saw in theaters provided further proof—it appeared that if you weren’t familiar with the TV series, the movie was not for you. (The low box-office numbers for the film prove my theory that the marketing campaign backfired.)
However, my friends who went positively ga-ga over Serenity assured me that the movie was not just for fans, that they’d brought along this person or that one and every single person just loved the movie even if they had never heard of Firefly (except perhaps as Rufus T.’s last name). My boyfriend and I were skeptical at first, but eventually we succumbed and rented the movie on DVD.
It turned out we had been right in the first place: we found Serenity to be dull and flat and even annoying, and I suspect that it relied too heavily on the audience already knowing something about the characters. We had no idea who these people were, if they were new for the movie or regulars on the TV show, but we never learned much about them and some of them never showed much depth.

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2005 in (cinematic) review, part two

Read part one of this entry first, which covers January through June 2005. This entry lists the films I saw in July through December 2005.
I also noted the films I saw at various festivals: aGLIFF, Fantastic Fest, and Austin Film Festival.
It’s difficult to say how many films I actually saw in 2005. However, more than 100 films are listed in these entries. I think that’s an acceptable number. I admire people who plan to average a film a day throughout the year, but I would have even more trouble writing about all of them, not to mention that I also enjoy getting out into the fresh air once in awhile.

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2005 in (cinematic) review, part one

Everyone is posting lists of their top ten (or five, or 15) 2005 films. I thought I might want to make some lists myself, but first I needed to remember which films I actually saw in 2005. The great advantage of reviewing or just writing about movies on a weblog like this is that theoretically, I would have a record of every movie I saw and even when I saw it.
For the first few months of the year, I wrote at least a summary review of nearly every movie, even the number of films I saw at SXSW. Somewhere in the long, hot, overtime-filled summer, I started slipping. I used my Netflix list and my stack of ticket stubs to help me figure out what I saw and didn’t write about, but a few movies may have slipped through the cracks. And while I know I saw Bright Leaves on PBS, I can’t figure out exactly when (it wasn’t the first viewing in August).
Still, I managed to pull together a fairly thorough list of all the movies I saw in 2005. I’m dividing it into two entries because it is so long. The films marked with an asterisk are movies that had a U.S. theatrical release in 2005, although in a few cases “theatrical release” means “a couple of nights at Alamo Drafthouse” or even “an airing on PBS.” It’s more difficult than I realized to determine what was released in 2005 and what was not. (The list actually includes a few 2006 releases, which I saw at various film festivals.)

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four six-minute reviews: in Houston airport

Can I write movie reviews while waiting in Houston Hobby airport for my flight (currently running 30 minutes late) to be called? Let’s find out. I have a list of movies I haven’t written about, and while I can’t randomize very well, or time myself, this will be the Airport Edition of six-minute movie reviews.
1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: 2005, dir. MIke Newell. Seen at Alamo Village.
I felt a bit sad because this is the first Harry Potter movie I saw alone. For the other three, I slipped out of work early and saw them with co-workers, hoping that the matinees would be less crowded. We saw the second and third movies at Alamo Village, because the pre-show stuff they play beforehand is agreeably silly.

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The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: 2005, dir. Andrew Adamson. Seen at Alamo Village (Dec. 15).
(Warning: I will give away elements of the plot in this review.)
I loved the book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was younger—middle-school age, I think—so I was intrigued to see how this adaptation would fare. I liked many of the little touches: the transition between wardrobe and Narnia, the White Witch’s scary black-hole eyes and expression, the understated look of Father Christmas. I liked that they replaced the “battles are ugly when women fight” lines with simply saying that battles are ugly, period.
But there were so many other details I disliked: the sniggering bits of humor throughout, such as the drawn-on glasses and mustache on the animal at the end of the movie (Adamson also directed the Shrek films); Edmund being imprisoned with Mr. Tumnus, which seemed unnecessary; the voice of the head wolf, which had a Dana Andrews-like quality that jarred with the rest of the cast and their generally British accents; and the Blitz sequences in the beginning, which didn’t quite work for me. (Also, I cannot see the word “evacuees” right now without thinking of something else entirely, which is a distraction, but that’s sadly unlikely to affect anyone not on the Gulf Coast.)

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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: 2005, dir. Shane Black. Seen at Regal Gateway (Dec. 4).
Arrrrgh. How do you write a clear, coherent review of a movie when all you want to say is, “Go see this! You liked Ocean’s Eleven? You get a kick out of riffs on noir with references to Raymond Chandler? You appreciate the rare film with clever dialogue? Well, find this movie and watch it before it leaves theaters, even though it mostly already has and you’ll have to dig it up in a discount theater or something.”
If you haven’t heard of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, that’s a real shame. I would gripe that its marketing/release campaign was poor, but how the hell do you convince people to see a weird-ass movie like this? The narrator stops the film at times and rewinds it a bit or jumps it to a different scene, fully aware he’s narrating a movie. I think the last movie where I saw this conceit was Elmo in Grouchland, which I cannot believe I am even mentioning in this review, and which is about 180 degrees different from — well, actually, if you think about the storyline …
Look, I had no idea I was going to like this movie. I skipped it at Austin Film Festival because it was showing only once, late at night, and I figured if the movie was any good I would catch it in theaters later. I thought it would have a wider release than it did, which proves that I didn’t know much of anything about the actual film. I heard that Harry Knowles was running a “Save This Movie” campaign, urging everyone to see it, but he is so happily exuberant about so many movies that I didn’t pay much attention.

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I survived the Turkey Marathon

So no one wanted to go with me to the Turkey Marathon of films at Alamo Downtown last Saturday night (and well into Sunday morning)? Well, fine. Wimps. I went anyway. I decided it would be a mini-adventure, that parking downtown would not be too terrible on a holiday weekend, and that I would enjoy seeing films in genres about which I am not very knowledgeable. Also, I told myself I didn’t have to stay for all four films if I got too tired, although I ended up remaining there for the whole marathon.
I did have a great time, although I wish more people had been in the audience. Maybe 30 people turned up for the first movie; by the time the fourth one ended, the number was down to 10. The Turkey Marathon movies were the kind that improve with a large audience. Still, the people who were there all seemed to be having fun. Tim League introduced the movies and then sat and watched the first two or three—he ran the projector for the final film.
I took advantage of the small audience to nab a sofa. Alamo Downtown has these nice squishy sofas in the back row. I’m not sure if I’d ever seen a movie from the sofas before. I’m not very tall and it’s difficult to see if you’re in the sofa row and the row in front of it is occupied. But no one sat in front of me, so I had a perfect view. I think I should pick the sofas more often, especially if I have someone with me like my boyfriend who can sit on the other half, as opposed to a stranger. (The other half of the sofa I picked had a crack in the seat, so no one wanted to sit there, luckily for me.) Let me tell you, if it weren’t for the comfy sofa I might not have lasted through all four films. I don’t know how those Butt-Numb-a-Thon people last through 24 hours.

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six six-minute reviews: good night, grimm dying jerk

It’s time for another round of Six-Minute Reviews. I have the timer right here. I sent The Beau a long list of movies I hadn’t reviewed, and he sent me a magical URL that picks the titles for me, one at a time, in random order. (I was too lazy to rip up bits of paper and stick them in a hat.)
I have a huge backlog of films to review, including a few I didn’t include on the list because they haven’t been released in theaters yet (like The Ice Harvest). I’m going to review some of those for Cinematical and hopefully will find time to talk about the others here. Maybe they can get more attention than a six-minute review, but don’t count on it. I also didn’t include movies for which I already have a half-written review; I will deal with them later.
But for now, how about six reviews at six minutes each?

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