Tuesday, April 03, 2007

One Sentence Movie Reviews, for movie lovers with short attention spans

If your attention span is too short for explanations of how these reviews work, skip straight to the movies. If your attention span is really short, you can just check out my IMDB "vote history" page (which has many more movies).

A few years ago, I started writing "One-Sentence Movie Reviews" for my website. Since I shut down the site for awhile, though, I stopped writing them. I was planning to revive this feature when I restart my website, but then I thought, "Hey, wait a minute, I can just put this on my blog until then."

Anyway, here's how my ratings work:
I use the IMDB 1–10 rating scale. Although I think it's better than a five- or four-star scale, it's still a fairly blunt instrument. I don't view all movies with the same rating as exactly equal. Some are a little better, some are a little worse, but they're roughly in the same range. The ratings are not based on some sort of component-by-component assessment of technical and artistic merit, but rather on how well they worked for me as movies.

The primary criterion is how deeply they engaged me. I look at things like whether I "suspended my disbelief," almost forgetting that what I'm watching is "just a movie"; whether I cared about the characters and what happened to them; and whether I became emotionally involved, be the emotions happiness, sadness, anxiety, joy, hope, excitement, or just plain fun. That's why, for example, I give a movie like Duck Amuck a 9 and The Departed an 8. I don't claim that Duck Amuck is necessarily a "better" movie, just that it worked a little better at what it was trying to do. And if my ratings seem a little top-heavy -- there are few movies lower than 7 -- that's because I only see movies that I think will be pretty good.

Since the irony of writing four paragraphs of explanation about how reviews "for people with short attention spans" work isn't lost on me, here's the short version of what the ratings mean:

10: Best ever
9: Profoundly moving
8: Deeply engaging
7: Enjoyable
6: Just OK
5: Sorry I watched it
4: Couldn't sit through it
1: An abomination of human endeavor

I hope all that makes sense, and I hope these reviews help you find some movies you'll enjoy.
One-Sentence Movie Reviews

The 10s

Casablanca (1942, PG)
Everything a movie can or should be.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, NR)
Best movie ever?

The 9s

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, PG-13)
American and Hong Kong movie conventions are blended into a lyrical king fu chick flick.

Das Boot (1981, R)
A must-see: best submarine movie ever (definitely), best war movie ever (arguably), best German movie ever (possibly).

Fight Club (1999, R)
The first time I saw this, I was expecting no more than some sort of macho entertainment about white-collar dudes who box as a hobby, but instead I found a movie that was not only very entertaining, but also intelligent, relevant, and full of unexpected turns.

Full Metal Jacket (1987, R)
The boot camp sequence is one of the best things ever in any movie, while the Vietnam part is just very, very good.

Kill Bill, vol. 1 (2003, R)
Wonderfully entertaining tribute to Hong Kong action movies of the 1970s.

Kill Bill, vol. 2 (2004, R)
Maybe the best "action" movie ever.

The Lives of Others (2006)
A thriller that thoroughly portrays the banality of the police state, while also being highly suspenseful and deeply moving.

Oldboy (2003, R)
Inventive and original, shocking and repugnant, beautiful and redemptive (yet twisted even in its redemption), this is a marvelous work of art for people who can stomach it.

One Froggy Evening (1955, NR)
This tale of the singing, dancing frog who won't perform on cue is arguably the best cartoon short ever.

Pulp Fiction (1994)
An all-time classic.

Ran (1985, R)
Kurosawa's gorgeous, bloody adaptation of King Lear is one of his best.

The Searchers (1956, NR)
John Wayne, of all people, is an anti-hero in this multilayered western.

The 8s

Amistad (1997, R)
Spielberg's slave ship rebellion story is a bit too earnest in places, but still powerful.

Animatrix (2003, NR)
Animated shorts that are better than the second and third Matrix movies.

Babel (2006, R)
I cared deeply about what would happen to several of the characters in this film's interwoven stories about the tragedy of failed communication.

Bad Ol' Putty Tat (1949), 8/10
Funny Tweety and Sylvester short with an almost surrealistic inventiveness.

The Big Lebowski (1998)
Another intelligent and entertaining farce from the Coen brothers.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006, R)
Is funniest movie film comedy ever in the One Sentence Movie Review.

The Breakfast Club (1985)
Although the teens are a little too articulate about their emotions and the message is a little obvious ("we're all alike inside"), The Breakfast Club is still effective and affecting, not to mention funny.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982, R)
8/10 (I'm tempted to give this a 10/10 just for Phoebe Cates by the swimming pool, but I'll retain some objectivity.)
Horny high school kids go to school, date, and work in this entertaining and (for Hollywood) pretty realistic comedy.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986, PG-13)
Ferris and friends skip school while the evil principal tries to catch him and flunk him.

Ghost World (2001)
Although not a faithful adaptation of the very good graphic novel, it's still a wonderful portrait of a girl coming of age in a world that's too narrow for her.

Hero (2002, PG-13)
Some beautiful artsy-fartsy touches raise this above typical Jet Li fare.

Hiroshima mon amour (1959, NR)
A Japanese man and a French woman, damaged by life in different ways, struggle to find redemption in each other's arms in this lyrical nouvelle vague classic.

Insomnia (2002, R)
Pacino is brilliant as a sleep-deprived detective in Christopher Nolan's film noir (or is it film blanc?) set under Alaska's midnight sun.

In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Forty years later, this mix of detective story and "issue" movie is still riveting.

Iron Man (2008)
Robert Downey Jr.'s brilliant performance, seamless special effects, and a deep-enough but not pretentious script make this latest entry in the comic book superhero genre a winner.

Lady Vengeance (2005)
While it doesn't have the wild inventiveness of Oldboy or the energy of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, this final entry in director Park Chan-wook's marvelous "vengeance trilogy" is the most grounded and realistic of the three films, the most darkly humorous, and the deepest emotionally.

Modern Times (1936, NR)
It's funny and because it's fast-paced for a silent film, modern viewers will still like it.

Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979, R)
Damn funny (you'll go to hell if you watch it), although the on-going jokes about revolutionary factionalism seem a little dated in these post-Marxist times.

Musa (2001, R)
This Korean period piece delivers pretty much everything you could want in an "epic" film: battles and landscapes and heroes and villains and hope and despair and lovers and masters and slaves and cowardice and valor and honor and dishonor and sorrow and excitement and etc.

Notorious (1946)
Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are perfect in Hitchcock's tale of espionage, love, and jealousy.

Once Upon a Time in China (1991, R)
Although the plot wanders at times, nuanced characters and great martial arts action make this a classic of its genre.

Onibaba (1964, NR)
A frankly sexy horror tale unlike anything you'll see in American cinema.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006, R)
A little girl travels between mundane, ugly, and brutal Fascist Spain and a magical, beautiful, and brutal underworld to seek her destiny in this lyrical fantasy.

The Pianist (2002, R)
Mere survival in itself becomes heroic in this Holocaust tale.

Play Time (1967, NR)
Who knew that French surrealism could be so funny?

Predator (1987, R)
A conventional small-group combat movie turns into an often riveting monster flick.

Rebecca (1940, NR)
Rampant sexism and Olivier's cold persona keep his character from being as sympathetic as intended, and censorship takes some of the edge off the plot, but this is still very good Hitchcock.

Rashomon (1950, NR)
Although it's a groundbreaking classic both conceptually and technically, casual movie watchers today may not find it that compelling.

Rear Window (1954, NR)
One of Hitchcock's best and most suspenseful films.

Requiem for a Dream (2000, NC-17/R)
Anyone who thinks drugs are glamorous should watch this movie.

Seven (1995, R)
Grisly and gripping thriller with a savage twist at the end.

Shaolin Soccer (2001, PG-13)
A wildly inventive and often hilarious bit of fluff about a washed-up coach and six kung fu brothers who form a soccer team and enter the big tournament.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994, R)
This uplifting story is flawlessly executed, but it's not quite the all-time great that its IMDB rating would have you believe.

Spider-man 2 (2004, PG-13)
Emotional depth makes this the best superhero movie ever.

Spirited Away (2001, PG)
Another beautiful animated film by Hayao Miyazaki.

Stardust (2007)
This fantasy based on the Neil Gaiman novel shoots for Princess Bride territory and comes surprisingly close.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996, PG-13)
This time-traveling, Borg-invading, Data-assimilating action potboiler is the second-best Trek movie (and the last good one, unfortunately).

Stray Dog (1949, NR)
While this police procedural directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura drags ever so slightly in parts, it's both a generally gripping story and a thoughtful exploration of themes such as guilt, choices, and personal and social responsibility.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
The first movie in Park Chan-wook's brilliant "vengeance trilogy," Sympathy violently demonstrates the futility and selfishness of revenge.

Thank you for Smoking (2005, R)
Bitingly funny satire of the "merchants of death" who sell tobacco and of anti-tobacco political correctness.

Tokyo Drifter (1966, NR)
Yakuza thriller that most people seem to find either brilliant or a bit too heavy on the "style" touches.

The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers (1973 and 1974, PG)
The best, and funniest, of all the versions of Dumas' book, and a childhood favorite that I enjoy even more today; watch them together, as they were intended.

12 Angry Men (1957, NR)
It's just twelve men talking in one room for an hour and a half, and I didn't take my eyes off the screen once.

United 93 (2006, R)
Understated yet wrenching as it builds towards inevitable tragedy.

Vanilla Sky (2001, R)
Enigmatic and enthralling, it kept me guessing -- is he dreaming? is he crazy? is it a conspiracy? -- all the way to the climax.

Volver (2006)
Penelope Cruz is wonderful in a movie that loves women.

The 7s

AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001, PG-13)
Well-made but flawed robot Pinocchio story seems to have two endings, a poignant and real one followed by a cloyingly sentimental one.

Apocalypto (2006, R)
A typical Mel Gibson film: visually compelling scenes, a strong narrative, and a twisted fascination with gore combine to create a movie that is entertaining enough but somehow seems less deep than it should have been.

Art School Confidential (2006)
The art school scenes in the first half of the movie are brilliant, but the film gradually goes off track as it focuses more heavily on a lame serial-killer subplot.

The Blue Max (1966, NR)
A morally complex and entertaining WWI air war movie that reminds us that good films could be made without computer graphics.

The Bourne Identity (2002, PG-13)
Matt Damon is credible as the amnesiac spy, with the yummy Franka Potente (Run, Lola, Run) as his love interest in this taut thriller.

Collateral (2004, R)
Entertaining thriller with Tom Cruise as the bad guy, where he belongs.

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Although I suppose there is a "philosophical" undertone to the movie -- Conan as Nietzschean superman -- in the end it's just a movie about musclemen hacking each other to bits with swords, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Conan the Destroyer (1984)
This sequel isn't true to the "barbaric" spirit of the Conan books, comic books, and first movie, but it's reasonably successful on its own terms as a lightweight sword-and-sorcery action flick.

Control (2007)
The story of Ian Curtis, the epileptic, suicidal frontman of the seminal post-punk band Joy Division is a fascinating one, and the movie is interesting, but I don't feel I understand him any better after watching this biopic.

Corny Concerto (1943, NR)
Amusing WB short mocks Fantasia's artistic pretensions.

Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)
Although it's absolutely gorgeous to look at, this melodramatic tale of court intrigue is otherwise unsatisfying.

District B13 (2004, R)
Parkour and kung fu form a winning combination in this entertaining French action flick co-written by Luc Besson.

Enemy at the Gates (2001, R)
A Russian and a German sniper (Jude Law and Ed Harris, respectively) try to outwit and kill each other during the siege of Stalingrad.

The Getaway (1972, PG)
Steve McQueen is the epitome of cool in this entertaining action thriller.

God's Army (2000, PG)
If you've ever wondered about the lives of those guys who annoy you by knocking at your front door, this is an interesting and generally realistic portrayal of life as a Mormon missionary.

Gun Crazy (1950, NR)
Noir-ish B-movie melodrama about a Bonnie and her reluctant Clyde holds up surprisingly well.

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
Silly stoner movie has plenty of funny moments.

Heat (1995)
Like every Michael Mann film, it's good -- OK, like every Michael Mann film except Ali -- it's good, but it didn't really make me care what happened to the characters.

Hellboy (2004, PG-13)
Director Guillermo del Toro and star Ron Perlman make this comic book adaptation surprisingly enjoyable.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
As an exercise in nostalgia and entertainment, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull works well enough, though it certainly never approaches the greatness of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Kanzou Sensei ("Dr. Akagi," 1998, R)
This nice story about a doctor struggling with the balance between the forest and the trees is done in an honestly sentimental style that some of the best Japanese directors seem to master repeatedly while Americans almost never do.

The Kids Are All Right (1979, PG)
One of the best rock documentaries, it shows us why the Who were one of the best live bands ever.

Knocked Up (2007)
A funny and life-, love-, and responsibility-affirming but forgettable comedy.

The Lathe of Heaven (1980)
The intelligence and acting in this old PBS adaptation of the Ursula K. Le Guin novel are more than enough to make up for the low budget and the poor-quality of the DVD transfer.

El Mariachi (1992, R)
Supposedly made for $7,000, Robert Rodriguez's first full-length film is a wild and crazy action flick.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003, PG-13)
No movie could live up to the books, but taken on its own this one is quite entertaining.

Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions (2003, R)
Somewhat disappointing, but only in comparison with the magic of the first Matrix film.

Miami Vice (2006, R)
Although Colin Ferrell is, as always, completely unbelievable as a tough guy (Where have you gone, Steve McQueen?), the movie as a whole still works pretty well.

Monster's Ball (2001, R)
Halle Berry won the Best Actress Oscar for one of the best performances by anyone in any year in a good but not great movie about loss, loneliness, learning to love, and stuff like that.

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983, R)
Probably the best thematically-unified sketch movie ever.

The Mummy (1999, R)
A competently done and entertaining action thriller.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, R)
Cheesy but effective horror.

Othello (1995, R)
Nicely done version, with a slimly handsome Laurence Fishburne as Othello and Kenneth Branagh as a coldly evil Iago.

The Patriot (2000, R)
A conventional but quite well-made Revolutionary War picture from Mel Gibson.

Pretty in Pink (1986)
Although it's mostly true to teenage life, the movie never really overcomes the triteness of its rich boy-poor girl plot and grabs the audience.

The Quiet American (2002, R)
Michael Caine is brilliant as an aging journalist in early 1950s Vietnam who finds that morality and personal convenience coincide. Or do they?

Reality Bites (1994, PG-13)
The characters in this early '90s post-college coming-of-age tale are too stereotyped, and the movie takes itself too seriously, but it still resonated with me a little bit; I knew people who were a lot like these guys

Reservoir Dogs (1992, R)
Touches of the Tarantino magic are visible but not fully ripened in his first film.

Rocky Balboa (2006, PG)
Stallone manages to give Rocky back his dignity in this wistful farewell.

A Room with a View (1985, NR)
I actually watched this by mistake -- I thought it was another movie altogether -- but it's a nice romantic comedy in the Merchant-Ivory style.

Scarface (1983, R)
This over-the-top gangster movie has become a classic.

Signs (2002, PG-13)
Another effective thriller from M. Night Shyamalan.

Submission: Part 1 (2004)
Since the director was killed for making this, I really want to say that it's a great film, one that will change people's hearts, but unfortunately I found it simplistic and rather amateurish. (Watch it here and decide for yourself. It's 10 minutes long, in English after the opening Arabic prayer.)

This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006, NR)
Interesting -- and sometimes devastating -- exposé of the arbitrary, unfair, and often downright goofy film-rating process in the USA.

Titus (1999, R)
Take Shakespeare's weirdest play (Titus Andronicus), add an excellent cast (Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, etc.), shake well with the goofiest staging ever, and you still can't get a bad movie.

Zulu (1964, NR)
Quite entertaining, although the heroes are all white colonialists, so it's a bit politically incorrect nowadays.

The 6s

Alien vs. Predator (2004, PG-13)
Often stupid but sometimes entertaining merger of the two sci-fi monster franchises.

Beowulf (2007)
Although the CG effects are stunningly good, the movie as a whole is stunningly dumb.

Dumb and Dumber (1994, PG-13)
Often funny, but a just little too dumb.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006, PG-13)
Although 24-year-old Lucas Black looks ridiculously old to be a high school student and the rest of the acting is pretty poor as well, the cars are cool and the rudimentary plot managed to hold my attention most of the time.

Fiend without a Face (1958, NR)
British actors play American military personnel on an airbase in Canada in this absurd yet oddly entertaining sci fi horror flick about thoughts that materialize and suck people's brains out of their heads.

The Guns of Navarrone (1961, NR)
Gregory Peck leads the usual motley crew of commandos on the usual "daring mission" against the Germans in this well-done WWII action flick.

The Most Dangerous Game (1932, NR)
It definitely has its suspenseful moments, but on the whole the film is melodramatic, over-acted, and severely dated.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976, PG)
More silly fun with Inspector Clouseau.

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic (2005)
Although I think Sarah Silverman is hot and I love how perverse and subversive her humor is, in the end she's funny but just not all that funny.

Unbreakable (2000, PG-13)
Not as nearly as good as Sixth Sense or Signs, but it does have a really cool twist at the end.

Van Helsing (2004), 6/10
It didn't suck, and the ending was actually a little affecting.

The sucks

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978, PG)
It tries really hard to be "so bad it's good," but it ends up just being bad.

Bulletproof Monk (2003, PG-13)
A good comic book is turned into a dreadful movie where even the fight scenes are lame and cheesy.

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