So here are 10 micro-reviews:
1. The Boondock Saints (1999) - Two Irish-American lads, get in a post-St. Patty's day fight, and after dispatching with the goons, feel that they have a vigilante calling to rid their Boston neighborhood of crime. Charismatic characters, bland moral dilemma, namely, what has the law to do with lawlessness? Not great.
2. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) - Two brothers plan to rob their parents' jewelry store as an answer to their financial troubles; you'll never guess: it doesn't solve their financial troubles. Like Ebert's review, I don't want to say more. This movie was fantastic. Sidney Lumet (who was nominated four times for the best director Oscar and who gave us Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and 12 Angry Men) directs a film, which was superbly acted through a range of emotions by Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman. What was I doing last year that I missed this film? Hopefully, I was the only one.
3. Red Without Blue (2007) - I've mentioned this before. An award-winning documentary about twin brothers and their family as one of the twins transitions from male to female. It's good, not always gripping, but pleasantly tells its story, probably in the manner it should be told.
4. The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006) - Winner of the highest award at Cannes in 2006, the film takes place in Ireland, 1920. Damien and Teddy are brothers. Damien, a medical graduate, joins Teddy in fighting the British for Irish independence. The two brothers fight side by side until they end up on opposites sides of a treaty. A compelling film, certainly. Well acted, well shot. To be honest, I wasn't in the mood for a film like this, but that's not the film's fault.
5. Maxed Out (2006) - Another award-winning documentary, Maxed Out shows viewers the vortex of the American style of debt, where things seem fine as long as the minimum monthly payment arrives on time. Like selling online poker to people with gambling problems, the film shows the cruel practices of predatory lending, which seeks out those who are most desperate and financially creates a class and culture of indentured servants. Hey, America, isn't freedom grand?
6. My Own Private Idaho (1991) - River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in Gus Van Sant's (Drugstore Cowboy, Good Will Hunting, Elephant) film about two young street hustlers. The movie drifts along with its characters, through the streets of Portland to Idaho, in and out of male prostitution, in and out of sleep. There is the Shakespearian son of privilege (played by Reeves) who cavorts with undesirable company as a mode of rebellion, who has sexual encounters with men but is not gay, who can and does return his privilege. Then there is the narcoleptic drifter (Phoenix) who is looking for home, looking for his mother. I've spent time with homeless youth, many prostituting themselves as a means of subsistence, and this captures the transience of such lives. I thought it was visually beautiful and I appreciated the last two sex scenes in the film which are nothing more than a handful of erotic stills.
7. The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) - I wouldn't assume that a movie with Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love could be considered well acted. I wouldn't assume I'd enjoy a biopic about Larry Flynt. It can; I did. Larry, who founded Hustler magazine and made millions never overestimating his readers taste, finds himself in a Supreme Court case after printing a parody ad about Jerry Falwell. The movie is as raunchy and raucous as Flynt, well probably not, but make a worthwhile point: if unpopular speech isn't protected, protecting speech doesn't do very much.
8. Iron Man (2008) - Aren't we tired of comic book movies? I am. This one is better than most. Probably helps to have actors who can act (Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, rather than Tobey Maguire) and a hero who is more of a flashy jerk than lovable.
9. Cool Hand Luke (1967) - I couldn't remember if I had seen this Paul Newman film. I like going back to actors before they became shelf-stable salad dressing. Newman plays the cavalier Luke, a cool prisoner in a rural jail, who refuses to care enough to bow to authority. Because of this, the respect of the fellow prisoners grows. Another film worth seeing, Luke is one of those characters who you can't take your eyes off, who you believe must know the secret to the world. You watch because he's beautiful, kind of like Paul Maclean in A River Runs Through It. You heart breaks when he is broken.
10. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) - I'll save you from the the plot details and you know who stars in and who directs these things. I experienced something about ten minutes into this film that I don't think I have before. It was 25% nostalgia (I was 12 and headed to summer camp with my friend Sean, when the last film came out), 75% just a childish being given over to play. I didn't care that physics didn't apply in this film, I wanted to play along. Without those two aspects, playing along and a dose of nostalgia, I don't think the film works, but, for me, it did. I won't say it was great. I won't say it wasn't over the top. In a way though, I wanted that, even if the end of the movie seemed like I was warped into a different Spielberg film.