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Since school has ended, I’ve been getting my money’s worth on my Netflix subscription and then some.  Here are my two cents on a few of the films I’ve seen lately.  To spice things up, I will preface each with a haiku:

Everything is Illuminated

2/5 stars

the little hobbit

quests for his family’s past

mordor was cooler



“A young American Jewish man begins an exhausting quest — aided by a naïve Ukranian translator — to find the righteous gentile woman who saved his grandfather when his small Ukranian village (along with most of the populace) was obliterated during the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941. Stars Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz and Boris Leskin. Liev Schreiber directs –”

Yes, you read that correctly.

Yes, you read that correctly.

“–Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer.”  (Netflix)

The first half of this movie is great, with “Royal Tenenbaums”-like quirkiness and charm, displayed wonderfully in the trailer.  Eugene Hutz, especially, is hilarious as Alex, the young Ukranian translator who makes hapless attempts at Americanisms.  But when Schrieber attempts to get all poignant about the Holocaust, he ends up overdoing the sad music and close up shots of people crying, and the movie just kind of grinds to a halt.

Across the Universe

3/5 stars

love it or hate it,

unless you’re high, you’ll agree:

bono’s no walrus



“An American girl (Evan Rachel Wood) and a British lad (Jim Sturgess) fall in love amid the upheaval of the 1960s in this musical featuring classic Beatles songs and a mix of live action and innovative animation. On an excursion to America, Liverpool dock worker Jude (Sturgess) falls for Lucy (Wood). When Lucy’s brother (Joe Anderson) is drafted, Jude and Lucy take a stand as anti-war activists. Dana Fuchs, Bono and Eddie Izzard co-star.” (Netflix)

I really enjoyed the beginning and the end, but thought the middle could have withstood some judicious cutting and come out for the better.  Bono’s cameo cover of “I am the Walrus” was one of the most painful things I have watched; the director could have recruited a tone-deaf, slightly-sloshed nobody from a random karaoke bar, and the scene would have turned out the same (if not slightly better).

He plays a douche remarkably well, though.

He plays a douche remarkably well, though.

Bono aside, the soundtrack is a real gem and what saved this movie from being a 2-star.  As long as you’re not a purist, you’ll enjoy the unique spin the film gives to classic Beatles songs.  “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and “Come Together” are two examples that also have good dance sequences:

Star Trek

5/5 stars

blending old and new

this film kicks ass.  credits roll,

i applaud madly



“Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his trusted team on the starship USS Enterprise boldly go where no man has gone before in this installment of Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi franchise that follows the early days of the intergalactic adventurers. The crew includes Spock (Zachary Quinto), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Sulu (John Cho). Eric Bana co-stars, and Leonard Nimoy appears as an older version of Spock.” (Netflix)

I was already a fan of the previous work of  John Cho, Anton Yelchin, and Karl Urban, so I was super delighted that they would all be in a movie together.  And how cool is it that John Cho as Sulu had a sizeable part in the script?  I am all for the correction of underrepresentation of Asian-Americans in film.

Nish described this movie on opening weekend as “Pirates of the Caribbean in space.”  I would have to say that’s not far off the mark, and would like to append “…but awesomer”.  It was well-written, well-directed, and if I had any quibble, it would be that the film felt a bit too short.  Five stars not because it was a pinnacle of cinematic achievement, but because it was the first film in a long time that I walked away from feeling completely satisfied.  You’ve got me, Star Trek franchise.  I eagerly await a sequel.

Over the past few days, I’ve sifted through multiple year-in-review lists, watched scores of trailers, and prowled Rotten Tomatoes for ratings.  Somewhere between The Dark Knight and Iron Man, the following 8 films may have escaped your viewing in 2008 but are now at the top of my to-do list.

These films aren’t necessarily Academy Award nominees or critics’ picks, though many of them are.  They were chosen for having an interesting premise and a fresh approach to their subject.

I’ve taken the liberty of compiling everything — movie posters, cast lists, ratings, synopses, trailers, and critics’ reviews — into one handy package for you.

So if you’re at the movie theater looking forlornly from The Day the Earth Stood Still to The Spirit, here are 8 alternatives for your consideration:

American Teen

Because it’s billed as a real-life ‘Breakfast Club’.

Directed by: Nanette Burstein

American Teen Rotten Tomatoes Rating

Documentary following the lives of four teenagers–a jock, the popular girl, the artsy girl and the geek–in one small town in Indiana through their senior year of high school. We see the insecurities, the cliques, the jealousies, the first loves and heartbreaks, and the struggle to make profound decisions about the future. Filming daily for ten months, filmmaker Nanette Burstein developed a deep understanding… See Full Description

Excerpts from critical reviews, courtesy of ChunkIt!’s My Chunks beta feature:

Cinematical.com’s James Rocchi’s Sundance 2008 review defends American Teen against concerns of overproduction and glossiness, and calls it “an engaging, stylish, and surprisingly smart piece of non-fiction entertainment”.

Next: Be Kind Rewind

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SUPERB Entertainment is arguably one of the best student government-sponsored organizations at Cal.  They put on films, concerts, sneak previews, and all sorts of other cool entertainment on campus at very reasonable costs.

Last year I saw a sneak preview of Charlie Bartlett, an indie film starring Robert Downey, Jr., in our very own Wheeler Auditorium, followed by a Q&A session with director John Poll.  (I’ll dedicate a post solely to Charlie Bartlett later.)  Another memorable SUPERB event was a surprise Counting Crows concert on Lower Sproul one evening.  I’m not a huge Crows fan, but both events were free and well worth my attendance.

Just how inebriated was lead singer Adam Duritz?

Just how inebriated was lead singer Adam Duritz?

Counting Crows, Wistful Alumni Descend on Sproul — The Daily Clog

This year, SUPERB has just come out with their Friday Film Series lineup, which consists of Iron Man, the campuswide MovieFest, Sex and the City, Wall-E, the Dark Knight, Pineapple Express, and Tropic Thunder.  Almost all of these are summer blockbusters I wanted to see but didn’t have the time or the spare change to watch at a theatre; now I can catch the flicks right on campus for only $3 with my Cal ID.

Two events I really hope SUPERB will put on this year:

1) A screening of Nanette Burstein’s documentary American Teen (see my earlier post).

2) An MC Lars concert; MC Lars is a smart, witty rapper who graduated from Stanford with an English major and just began a college tour to promote his new record (related post to come).  Here’s Lars’s music video for “Download This Song”, his take on the changing role of the record industry in today’s increasingly ditigalized world.

I’m a sucker for hilarious documentaries of crappy middle America.  Spellbound, a film that follows the lives of six young competitors as they prepare for the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee, comes to mind as one of my favorites.  It was excellently done, showcasing humor in the inane (a misspelled “CONGRADULATIONS” sign honoring one contestant at the local Hooters, another contestant’s mother knowledgeably confiding, “I think Ted’s got the advantage of parents who think he’s great irregardless.”)

A modern-day Breakfast Club?

"A modern-day Breakfast Club"

American Teen, a documentary film by Nanette Burstein set in Warsaw, Indiana, promises to combine the tongue-in-cheek humor of Spellbound with the high school angst of The Breakfast Club.  It’s been lauded by critics so far, winning the Directing Award for documentaries at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.  The film’s tagline is, “The Jock.  The Geek.  The Rebel.  The Princess.  The Heartthrob.  Who Were You?”

I’m especially intrigued by the romance between Hannah (the rebel) and Mitch (the heartthrob) that is hinted at in the trailer.  Definitely an audible “awww”.

I just wish the film’s design team had had a high enough budget to come up with their own signature title look, rather than ripping off that of American Girl, purveyor of dolls and clothing for preteen girls:

Coincidence?

Coincidence?