Resolution Update #2

12 Mar

gonebabygone.jpgYou may know of my 2008 Resolution Challenge, in which my goal is to read 25 books and watch 50 movies throughout the year. (You can read update #1 here.) Below is the second installment of my progress, along with short reviews on each. Would love to hear your thoughts on any of the following in the comments. Welcomed are both woo-hoo’s and f-you’s alike.

BOOK 3: Thunderstruck

“Thunderstruck” is a non-fiction novel written by Erik Larson (author of the acclaimed “Devil in the White City” that I never read) about a famous London murder ‘round the turn of the 20th century. It follows two seemingly unrelated stories – a love triangle, and the invention of wireless communication – as they eventually intertwine to combine for one of the most famous murders in London history. The 480-page book is gripping in its back-and-forth action and momentousness of the subject matter, and writer Larson paints vivid details about the happenings. However, at times the writing becomes a bit too detailed. For instance, I enjoyed reading about the London neighborhoods and their look & feel in the early 1900’s … but three full pages to describe certain blocks and their layout? That seems excessive. As a result of the over-detail, combined with the whodunit excitement about the murder, I ended up skimming a fair amount of the book’s middle just to learn the conclusion. Good book, great story; grade: B

MOVIE 4: Sicko

Sicko encompasses the best and worst of every Michael Moore film. The good: Moore passionately makes a case to help change and improve our country, demonstrating the problem with a blend of personal stories and hard facts. The bad: he spends too much time painting the hypothetical solution (in this case: free national health care) as an idyllic scenario, which is simply untrue. While Moore did an effective job of highlighting the appalling problems with our country’s health care – seriously, prepare for some tears – a part of me wished he’d spent more time offering an objective look at the potential solutions. Either way, no one who’s seen this movie can deny the problem, and for that I’d say Moore is a hero. I will also go on record as saying I believe anyone who didn’t see Sicko for political reasons is a jackass who deserves no respect. Grade: B+

MOVIE 5: Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton
is a dark, deliberately-paced legal drama. Tough to explain the plot of this one. Here goes: a large company is embroiled in a billion-dollar case when its main counsel goes berserk, leading them to call in Clayton (Clooney) character to help clean up the mess. The complex quirkiness of the plot, as well as numerous tangents into Clayton’s and the other characters’ personal lives, make for a challenging film to follow along, but those who stick with it should be impressed. Grade: B

MOVIE 6: Sunshine

The best way I can describe Sunshine is to think of the basic storyline as Armageddon, but set it in the future and add an element of fucked-up brilliance to it. Sunshine is a futuristic thriller that depicts a crew of astronauts as they set off to save the earth. Director Danny Boyle (who also helmed Trainspotting and the awesome 28 Days Later) somehow makes the risky subject work, and speaking as a hater of all sci-fi movies, I will admit this inventive, intense movie kicked all kinds of ass and was one of my favorites in ’07. There were times I wondered if maybe I wasn’t watching a modern classic. Grade: A-

MOVIE 7: Mr. Brooks

Kevin Costner, boasting an embarrassing lack of range – which pretty much ruins the movie – plays a suburban dad by day and psycho thriller by night. Dane Cook plays his hopeful apprentice. The two plan a couple murders. Demi Moore, a detective, tries to stop them. The end. A rare movie in that its downfall can be almost entirely blamed on the casting director. Grade: C-

MOVIE 8: We Are Marshall

Surprisingly likable. One would expect it to include dozens of sports movie clichés, yet We Are Marshall happily eschews most of them. Just a feel-good true story; nothing more, nothing less. Grade: B-

MOVIE 9: 3:10 to Yuma

I kind of loved this western remake. I’ll readily acknowledge a few of the Act III imperfections – for example, the ridiculously implausible shooting scene – but I’ll chalk it up to the “entertaining storytelling over accurate realism” vibe that was going on during the first time this movie was made (in ’57). Fans of westerns who can forgive the occasional sins of far-fetchedness will probably dig 3:10 to Yuma. Loved the Wild West cinematography. Christian Bale is money as well. Grade: B+

MOVIE 10: Gone Baby Gone

Best movie of 2007. Can I take a minute to praise director Ben Affleck? I know the man is universally reviled as a douchebag – though, for the life of me I can’t remember why – but I have to say, his directing in Gone Baby Gone was flawless. Flawless, I say. The complex storyline was told with such assured subtlety; you can tell he really respects his audience. So rare for films these days. The movie never gets too gory (though it could), it never gets too explanation-heavy (though with most directors it would), and best of all, it never gets too preachy. Each of these factors helped make Gone Baby Gone a winning film, and each of them can be credited directly to Affleck. The story he told wasn’t compelling enough to make GBG a classic, but his keen eye for direction made it my absolute favorite of the year. Grade: A-

MOVIE 11: No Way Out

No Way Out is a 1987 political thriller starring Gene Hackman as a corrupt politician, and Kevin Costner (who isn’t asked to act like anything but an arrogant semi-douche, which is evidently right up his alley) as a former navy hero hired to help him cover it up. My roommate liked it, my girlfriend tolerated it, and it’s one of my step-dad’s favorites; all for good reason. No Way Out, a remake of a classic novel, is a damn interesting movie despite the fact that it’s woefully dated. Definitely worth a rental. Grade: B

MOVIE 12: Matchstick Men

Saw it on TV. That is pretty much the only situation in which seeing this movie is worth your time. In that respect, it ain’t bad. Grade: C+

MOVIE 13: Ocean’s Thirteen

Harder to follow and less clever than the first installment, though far superior to the second. A decent rental, I suppose. Grade: B-

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