Deja Vu (2006)

Deja Vu: 2006, dir. Tony Scott. Seen at Gateway (preview screening).
I grew up in the New Orleans area (Metairie, to be specific), and that’s the primary reason why I decided to see Deja Vu. In addition, I am one of the five people who actually liked Tony Scott’s previous film, Domino, so I went into the movie with cautious optimism.
Deja Vu is a good thriller with a supernatural twist, and with a minimum of that Tony Scott trademark camera style that makes me feel ever so slightly nauseated from vertigo. However, I think that if you are from New Orleans, you need to be aware of at least one plot mechanism that may make the movie hard to watch.
The movie opens with a crowd of people all piling onto the Algiers ferry one morning. At first, I wondered why everyone was wearing Mardi Gras beads, and thought, “Those damn filmmakers probably thought New Orleanians always walk around with beads on.” However, a few carefully placed signs and lines of dialogue indicate that this is supposed to be Fat Tuesday itself, 2006, post-Katrina. (I am still dubious, because I feel that Mardi Gras anywhere near the Quarter should be much more crowded … no one is even wearing a costume! And why would a group of schoolchildren be on the ferry; Fat Tuesday is a school holiday in south Louisiana. But I digress.) I hadn’t seen any trailers for this movie at all, so I had no idea what would happen next — I figured this was a setup where some of the people on the ferry would turn out to be important characters later.

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Hollywoodland (2006)

Hollywoodland: 2006, dir. Allen Coulter. Seen at Galaxy Highland (press screening).
Hollywoodland posterI love watching movies that re-create or fictionalize notorious Hollywood history. For example, I’m very fond of The Cat’s Meow, the retelling of the mysterious death of Thomas Ince. The new film Hollywoodland, as indicated by its title, is also about a famous unsolved Hollywood murder, back in the day when the Hollywood sign contained four extra letters*. The difference between The Cat’s Meow and Hollywoodland, however, is that The Cat’s Meow devises a fictional and satisfying resolution to the unsolved murder. I’m told the upcoming film The Black Dahlia does something similar. Hollywoodland, on the other hand, prefers to stick to the facts as much as possible, which causes some problems with the ending.
The movie focuses on the unexpected death of actor George Reeves (Ben Affleck), best known for his TV role as Superman, by gunshot wound in 1959. The death was ruled a suicide, but detective Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) finds evidence that may rule otherwise. Was his death related to his longtime affair with Toni Mannix (Diane Lane), a studio exec’s wife? What about his fiancee, Leonore Lemmon (Robin Tunney)? Or is there some other, hidden motive?
Hollywoodland neatly wraps two storylines into one narrative: Simo’s involvement with the case, and the ways in which it affects his personal life; and a flashback of Reeves’ life from his meeting with Toni Mannix to the night of his death. The movie does an excellent job at tying the two storylines together so that we’re always aware of which time period we’re in. When the movie cuts from one time period to another, we immediately see one of the principal characters to anchor us in the proper storyline. My only complaint is that the film also includes some fantasy sequences about the night of Reeves’ death, which are filmed in the same style as the rest of the film. The first time, it seems to be done strictly for a “gotcha” effect (like the dream sequence in The Princess Bride); but it’s a weak device that adds unnecessary confusion. The story should be suspenseful enough without these scenes.

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Quinceanera (2006)

Quinceanera: 2006, dir. Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. Seen at Barton Creek Cinemark (press screening).
Quinceanera was a nice little film, but I expected something more memorable from a movie that was so highly praised at Sundance. I know many people who would expect anything that won an award at Sundance these days to automatically be unexceptional, but I was optimistic. The week before, I had reviewed the formulaic teen dance film Step Up, and it was surprising to find Quinceanera nearly as full of cliches, stereotypes, and predictable plot twists. Fortunately, the characters are so engaging that they help overcome the more mundane aspects of the familiar coming-of-age storyline.
The film focuses on Magdalena (Emily Rios), who is preparing for her quinceanera, the big party surrounding a girl’s 15th birthday, and dealing with a variety of emotions. Sometimes she wishes she didn’t have to be feted, but at the same time she wants the accoutrements her wealthy cousin enjoyed at her party: a new dress instead of a hand-me-down, and a Hummer limo to carry her and her friends to the party. In the middle of all this, Magdalena unexpectedly finds herself pregnant … without having had sex. Her father, a preacher, refuses to believe her and Magdalena moves in with her great-uncle Tio Tomas (Chalo Gonzalez), who has already taken in another family black sheep, Magdalena’s gay cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia). Carlos and Magdalena both try to determine who they are, what they want, and how they should prepare for the future.

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Scoop (2006)

Scoop: 2006, dir. Woody Allen. Seen at Arbor Great Hills.
I made a solemn vow about two years ago, after seeing Sweet and Lowdown on DVD, never to watch a post-Bullets over Broadway Woody Allen movie again. (Read the last paragraph of the above-linked review for the exact wording of the vow.) I was tempted by Match Point, because so many people who’d given up on Allen were praising the film to the skies. I was tempted recently by an ebullient review I read of Curse of the Jade Scorpion. But I still felt skeptical.
I broke my vow last weekend, to see Scoop … mainly because my husband wanted to go. He doesn’t like Woody Allen movies much, and I was so surprised by the role reversal (three years ago, I would have been urging him to go) that I felt I ought to acquiesce. I’m not entirely sure why he wanted to go — it was the least annoying comedy in theaters, he likes Scarlett Johansson, he read some good reviews — but off we went.
Scoop was a charming afternoon’s diversion — another entry in the genre I’ve discovered this year that I call “the smart person’s dumb comedy.” Light comedy might be a more appropriate term. I came up with the term after we saw Thank You for Smoking and Art School Confidential, both flawed comedies that were not as clever as they wanted to be (or as I wanted them to be), but entertaining fluff that didn’t rely on bodily-function jokes, offensive stereotyping, or the Wilson brothers.

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Clerks II (2006)

Clerks II: 2006, dir. Kevin Smith. Seen at Galaxy Highland (press screening).
I’ve been waiting for years to see someone rework a Thirties screwball comedy film in contemporary terms. Friends and I have argued about whether it is even possible: whether the old-fashioned screwball comedy is dead and buried, a product of its time. So it was a complete surprise to encounter a movie with a plot lifted straight from His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby in the most unlikely place … Clerks II, Kevin Smith’s sequel to his 1994 first feature.
I never in my life thought I would be referring to one of Kevin Smith’s as reminiscent of Howard Hawks … although Hawks never included expressions like “cock-stain”. But then I never imagined myself sitting in a theater at the end of Clerks II thinking, “Oh, my God. He just remade The Front Page, but with fast food instead of journalism,” and subsequently picking up my jaw from the floor at the very idea.
I heard Smith speak about this film earlier in the year. He claimed that he wanted to make a movie that Clerks fans would enjoy, and to hell with everyone else. (I am sure Smith said something cruder than “to hell” but you get the idea. If my mom ever met him she would stuff three bars of soap in his mouth within five minutes.) I have no strong feelings about Clerks — I didn’t understand all the hype, and found some of it annoying (the film’s attitude towards females), although there were parts that I liked very much (the hockey game). I liked Chasing Amy and Dogma much better. Clerks II seems to be much closer in spirit and tone to Chasing Amy.

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An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

An Inconvenient Truth: 2006, dir. Davis Guggenheim. Seen on June 30 (Alamo South Lamar).
An Inconvenient Truth reminded me in many ways of Spalding Gray’s one-man film Swimming to Cambodia. The premise sounds totally non-cinematic, but that somehow works: a guy talks to us for nearly two hours. Gray told us entertaining stories, while Al Gore shows us statistics and gives us scientific proof about the effects of global warming.
I read Susie Bright’s review of An Inconvenient Truth, which dismissed the global-warming information in the film as being too obvious — that everyone knows this stuff. She felt the film was meant as Presidential propaganda for Gore. I’ve heard a couple of other people with similar opinions about Gore and the film.
I would disagree on this point. Of course many of us already know that global warming is a problem that we need to solve, that we need to stop ignoring in the hopes that it will go away. But for me, seeing the statistics, the photos of diminishing ice caps, the dire forecasts, right there on a nice big screen did make a difference.

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A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

A Prairie Home Companion: 2006, dir. Robert Altman. Seen on June 24, 2006 (Dobie Egyptian Room).
Neither the Beau nor I were eager to see A Prairie Home Companion, but it was our only choice for a non-stupid comedy over the weekend. We aren’t huge Altman devotees (although I’m quite fond of MASH), and we’ve never been fans of the radio show, but wanted a light, smart movie to watch in a theater. A Prairie Home Companion was just right for meeting those expectations.
A Prairie Home Companion is an offshoot of Garrison Keillor’s radio show. In the movie, Keillor plays himself, G.K., the host of a live radio show that is giving what may be its last performance before new owners of the venerable old theater knock it down for a parking lot. Some of the musical acts on the show include Lefty and Dusty (John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson), the Johnson Sisters (Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin), and Chuck Akers (L.Q. Jones). Meanwhile, detective wanna-be Guy Noir (Kevin Kline) has spotted an unusual backstage guest … the mysterious Dangerous Woman (Virginia Madsen). Can she somehow help save the theater and the radio show? Will the heartless new owner (Tommy Lee Jones) really go through with it? And what’s been going on between G.K. and Streep’s character, anyway?

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a very Weird Wednesday indeed

I have been saying for years that I need to see a Weird Wednesday movie at Alamo Drafthouse Downtown. How can I resist a free movie, even at midnight? I used to have the excuse of a day job with regular hours, which made midnight movies impractical. However, since I’m freelancing right now, that excuse won’t work. I’ve had to resort to the excuse that I am not as young as I was and it’s hard to stay up that late and enjoy a movie. Yeah, that’s pretty lame too.
Last week I was unable to refuse. First of all, I may be returning to work full-time in an office, so I may have only a limited time left to see midnight movies during the week. I don’t want to look back and realize how dumb I was to miss such a good opportunity. Second of all, the movie was one I wanted to see at any time of day: Hells Angels on Wheels, the 1967 biker film directed by Richard Rush, starring Jack Nicholson and Adam Roarke. I am a big fan of Rush’s dark comedy The Stunt Man, and I’d just seen another Rush film starring Roarke at QT Fest, The Savage Seven. Then I heard that the film’s stunt coordinator, Gary Kent, would be at the midnight screening. I had nothing scheduled for Thursday morning, and I took a little nap on Wednesday afternoon to prepare. I was ready for Weird Wednesday.

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Art School Confidential (2006)

Art School Confidential: 2006, dir. Terry Zwigoff. Seen May 14 (Alamo South Lamar).
I wanted to see Art School Confidential with The Beau, and he checked Rotten Tomatoes beforehand, as he hadn’t heard much about the film. The rating was low (in the low 30s) and he looked pretty skeptical. But I had read a positive review that caught my interest, and anyway it was the only movie playing at the time that looked at all funny. Wary but hopeful, we decided to give it a shot.
I can see that if you’d been expecting something along the lines of Ghost World, Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes’s earlier film, you might find Art School Confidential disappointing. Some reviewers assumed the movie would be a scathing, insightful, in-depth critique of the art world, and then were upset when they found out that it’s not. It is a smart person’s dumb comedy, and if you watch the movie with those expectations, it can be quite enjoyable. The movie more closely resembles The Freshman, the 1990 Matthew Broderick/Marlon Brando comedy about an NYU film student who becomes entangled in organized crime, than it does Ghost World.

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