Category Archives: Film Listings/Ratings

Snowpiercer (Joon-ho Bong – 2013) B+

It’s a visually spectacular film with shocking, at times beautiful at times gruesome set pieces. The idea is that mankind set-off the new ice age and the sole survivors live on a long train that circles the globe named Snowpiercer. Of course, being humans, a class system exists between the tail end and first class lead by the “engine” and the malevolent Wilford. The folks in the tail section who live in horrible conditions, eat blocks of mystery protein and are treated like cattle want to revolt. The rebels are lead by Curtis (Chris Evans) and start a violent progress from one crazy carriage to carriage. Each one of those carriages seems like its own world complete with color, mood and characters. My favorite has to be the elementary school one.
This make it sound like a violent video game but it really is not quiet as simple as that. The film does have more nuance, satire, plenty of good performances, and at least one crazy good monologue by Tilda Swinton. It does kind of stumble in the last act, has a silly “grand plan” and it suffers from too much on-the-nose exposition while at times not giving us enough depth for characters (what was up with that dude who never seemed to die?).

Somm (Jason Wise – 2012) B+

It’s a documentary that follows four guys hoping to pass their exam to become Master Sommelier, aka Somm. Of course, everyone knows about a sommelier in a fine dining restaurant but I had not heard of the “levels” in the profession that go up to Master Sommelier. A Somm is very tough to achieve and there are only a few hundred in the world! The amount of work, very high expectation, stress and effort these guys have to go through is insane. The doc portrays that very well and gets us interested in these guys’ pursuit along with their various motivations to become a Somm. The film does not use any flashy techniques or recreations, just a camera following the hopefuls and some interviews with their family and other Somm officials and judges. The topic is very interesting to me and that coupled with the characters made for an engaging documentary.

Gravity (2013 – Alfonso Cuaron) A

A truly beautiful movie with pitch perfect performance by Sandra Bullock and confident direction.  Cuaron utilizes music to great effect here since the film is set in space where there is no sound. It’s intense and has no minute of waste. That does not mean that it’s non-stop action, but that even when the Bullock character is taking a short nap it’s still a superb shot of her in a fetal position in zero gravity as the camera zooms out. My only regret is that I did not get to see this on the big screen. Just like his Children of Men or Y Tu Mama Tambien, this is a film I will be watching often.

The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch – 2009) D-

Oh man..this one really tested my limits! After seeing the wonderful Jarmusch film Broken Flowers I noticed this one on Netflix as well. I remember the name but knew nothing about it. I had to restart this movie twice and then took me maybe 4 starts to finish it…I kept nodding off. I hated it really. I hated its pointlessness. I hated how pretentious it felt. I hated the main character and felt like punching him after ordering his two espressos in “two separate cups” for the 10th time or after sitting there staring at some other ramblig character without saying anything. I’m all for movies that do not pander for the audience, the ones that expect you to think and figure out who’s who and what’s what. For a movie that might be about a loner criminal and set in Madrid and Andalusia it really has no “what” or anything else for me to care about. We’ll see how the next Jarmusch film I see fairs…

Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch – 2005) A

Really fantastic film and probably one of Bill Murray’s best performances. He plays an aging single well-off playboy aptly named Don Johnston who receives an anonymous letter from an old flame that he has a son who is possibly looking for him. After much prodding from his amateur detective neighbor he goes on a cross-country tour to identify who sent the letter. It’s a simple plot but Jarmusch has a unique style that works very well here. We have recurring shots that occur over and over (Johnston putting the same CD in the car’s stereo for example), the screen fades to black repeatedly on seemingly random times, the color pink plays an important role (or maybe not), and so on. The music also with the same note plays over and over. It should be annoying I would think but it is not. I found myself waiting for it to start again.

I loved the film and the journey that Johnston goes on. I loved all the other characters as well from his likable detective neighbor to the various women he visits and their various reactions. Murray plays Johnston stoically with long little outward emotion. Some might say he does not change much but I think that is not the case. The character we leave at the end of the film is a different man that the one who opened it while being dumped by his girlfriend. It’s a movie that balances perfectly being an artsy drama while at the same time capturing my attention and getting me invested in what is going on.

Spinning Plates (Joseph Levy – 2012) A

This falls in my perfect sweet spot. A well-done documentary about three restaurants including Alinea in Chicago. The other two restaurants are a struggling Mexican restaurant in Phoenix and an old (as in over a 100 years old) establishment in a small town in Iowa that literally anchors the town of 100 or so residents. The film’s focus is not at all the “inner workings” of restaurants though. It’s about overcoming adversity and keeping your family and those you love together. Spinning Plates gives us a very good idea of who those who are running these restaurants are and then goes into their individual struggles. From the 3 Michelin star Alinea to the struggling Cocina de Gaby in Pheonix there is a world of difference but also a lot of similarities. All of these places involve very hard work and an attempt to hold on to the traditions, the places and the work they love.