“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”: An Awesome Tale of Hydro-Engineering, Muddied by Stupid Kissy Parts

7-word review for the ADD-afflicted: Too much contrived romance. Not enough hydro-engineering.

70-word review for the busyThere was a delightful movie waiting to be made here. It’s still waiting.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – about a project to bring 10,000 Atlantic salmon to the Arabian desert – sets up a fun arena for idealism and skepticism to duke it out, a classic tale of “That’s impossible!” vs. “That’s why we’re doing it!”

But then, Salmon Fishing makes a grave mistake: It tries to become a love story.

700-word review for the procrastinators

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen has its share of charms, and, by way of counterbalance, its share of fish metaphors. It also has a Yemeni sheik who speaks only in abstract nouns. “Faith, Dr. Alfred,” he intones. Then, later: “Hubris, Dr. Alfred.” Thanks, sheikh – those themes would have flown right over our heads, if you hadn’t so tenderly shoved them down our ear canals.

If I’m being harsh, it’s because Salmon Fishing is the most infuriating species of movie: the kind that threatens greatness, and can’t make good on the threat. Continue reading

Review: Tree of Life

7-word review for the ADD-afflicted: Brings tears of joy. Or of boredom. 

70-word review for the busy: Ever tried to make God a character in your movie? Even harder, ever tried to do it without casting Morgan Freeman? Terrence Malick has. Tree of Life is a dizzying, brilliant, and often tiresome collage of God’s creation, spanning from the dawn of time to the childhood of one boy in Waco, Texas. Malick aspires to solve universal puzzles, leaving viewers to solve the puzzle of what, exactly, they’re watching.

700-word review for the procrastinators:

How can a human being conceive of God?

Equivalently, what the hell is Tree of Life about?

The film, written and directed by Terrence Malick, has no plot, defies chronology, and goes for long stretches without dialogue. Two stories – one boy’s coming of age, and the creation of the Earth – appear interspersed. Waves break. Deserts form. Sean Penn treads barefoot over rocky landscapes, as he is wont to do. And, with narrative convention lying shattered in the aisles, two out of the ten people at my screening gave up and went home long before the closing credits. I pity and envy them. What they ditched was a movie of rare ambition and enormous pretension, a movie that I can describe only by piling on metaphors: a constellation of whispers, a necklace of prayers, a garden of visions whose roots all intertwine.

More simply, Tree of Life is a weird, slow movie that I can’t stop thinking about. It reminds me of my first meal in a fancy restaurant: The food is fascinating, and I have no idea whether it tastes good. Continue reading

Review: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

7-word review for the ADD-afflicted:
Filthy stoner bromance – and sweet friendship story.

70-word review for the busy: Smart-and-stupid movies like this tend to provoke one of three reactions: 1) Laughter; 2) Groans; and 3) Earnest academic analysis of the film’s cultural meaning.
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas provokes all three, in roughly that order. As the escapades unfold, Harold and Kumar rediscover their forgotten friendship – an emotional arc that the film pulls off with surprising tenderness, and with time to spare for frozen penis jokes.

700-word review for the procrastinators: Yes, it’s Harold & Kumar.

Yes, it’s in 3D.

Yes, when Patton Oswalt and Kal Penn lit up just after the opening credits, I worried that I’d soon smell the three-dimensional marijuana fumes wafting towards me. Continue reading

Review: Ides of March

7-Word Review for the ADD-Afflicted: On paper, outstanding. Onscreen, it’s merely good.

70-Word Review for the Busy: The cast is a dream team—George Clooney as a charismatic candidate, Ryan Gosling as his savvy aide, Evan Rachel Woods as a flirty intern, Marisa Tomei as an opportunistic reporter, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti as blustery rival campaign managers.

Unfortunately, there’s more to Ides of March than top-notch performances. There’s a muddled message and, in the end, a failure to deliver on the film’s immense promise.

700-Word Review for the Procrastinators: I’m disappointed by Ides of March, and I’ve got only myself to blame.

Continue reading

Review: Moneyball

This is the first in a series of occasional film reviews. To cater to different types of readers, we offer reviews of three lengths: 700 words for the procrastinators, 70 words for the busy, and 7 words for the ADD-afflicted.

7-Word Review for the ADD-Afflicted:

Unfolds like a baseball game: oddly graceful.

70-Word Review for the Busy:

If you’re like me, but you cry more easily, then Moneyball will make you cry. Granted: it’s slow. Granted: it’s about baseball statistics. Granted: the closest thing to a love story is Jonah Hill’s apprenticeship with Brad Pitt. But Pitt’s portrayal of Billy Beane – failed major league player and frustrated general manager, a man who can’t win and who can’t bear to lose – is worth the price of the ticket.

700-Word Review for the Procrastinators:

Moneyball is paced a little like baseball itself: slow and erratic.

Tension builds, then dissipates, then builds again. It’s studded with dry spells and hot streaks and anticlimaxes – the rhythm not only of baseball games, but of whole seasons and careers, too. And like baseball, Moneyball rewards the patient, knowledgeable viewer – not so much the casual fan. But just as I’ll defend the sport itself, I’m willing to stand up for Moneyball. The film is a well-drawn character portrait of A’s general manager Billy Beane, a man who can’t win and can’t bear to lose.

First of all: Why the funny pacing? Continue reading