Movie Review: Donnie Darko (2001)

In 2019 I found some old Word documents with movie reviews I wrote back before I had a blog. I’m posting each review backdated to the day I wrote it.

Title: Donnie Darko
Release Date: October 26, 2001
Director: Richard Kelly
Production Company: Flower Films

I caught the re-release of this movie as Donnie Darko: The Directors Cut in the theaters last year, and finally got around to watching the original version on DVD last week. I am drawn into this movie because it has some interesting parallels to my own life. The movie is set in 1988 and Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a teenage boy the same age I was in 1988 living in a suburban town much like my own and attending a somewhat progressive Catholic high school, again much like my own. I however never had visions of a six-foot demonic bunny rabbit predicting the end of the world nor had a jet airplane engine fall through the roof of my house.

This movie is brilliant because it works on so many levels. It’s a science fiction movie about time travel and alternate universes. It’s a coming-of-age story about a boy trying to find his place. It’s a religious-philosophical movie about the search for God. It’s a period piece which is honest about what the 80’s were really like, as opposed the hackneyed stereotypes about that decade (see “13 Going on 30”). It has a great soundtrack too.

The cast in this movie is brilliant, especially Jake Gyllenhaal’s sister Maggie who plays Donnie’s older sister, Jena Malone who plays Donnie’s girlfriend, Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osbourne who play Donnie’s parents, Drew Barrymore and Noah Wyle who play sympathetic teachers, Patrick Swayze as a creepy motivational speaker, and Katharine Ross as Donnie’s therapist. The DVD has several cut scenes, several of which made it into the Director’s Cut. There is much controversy over which version is better some saying the Director’s Cut fleshes out the cryptic parts of the movie, while others prefer the pureness of the original version. I like them both, but would recommend watching the original version first.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: The Hunting of the President (2004)

In 2019 I found some old Word documents with movie reviews I wrote back before I had a blog. I’m posting each review backdated to the day I wrote it.

Title: The Hunting of the President
Release Date: 2004
Director: Nickolas Perry & Harry Thomason
Production Company: Regent Releasing

I noticed as soon as Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 that there was a greater amount of media scrutiny of his life and activities as president than I had noticed for presidents Reagan or Bush before him. Now, I was an infant during Watergate and probably not as politically astute in the 80’s but there still seemed to be a trend. I thought it would be interesting to find out if it was just a change in the media in general toward sensationalism, that Bill Clinton really was that much more slimy than his predecessors, or if there was an organized effort to discredit the president. This movie does not answer these questions. In fact it is the lowest of the low, a movie that counters mudslinging and sensationalism with mudslinging. Most of it consists of odd stock footage, interviews with people whose credibility is difficult to establish, and ominous narration. In short, it’s total crap.

Rating: No stars

Movie Review: Dancer in the Dark (2000)

In 2019 I found some old Word documents with movie reviews I wrote back before I had a blog. I’m posting each review backdated to the day I wrote it.

Title: Dancer in the Dark
Release Date: December 8, 2000
Director: Lars von Trier
Production Company: Zentropa Entertainments | Canal+ | FilmFour | France 3 Cinéma

One of those movies that makes you just want to curl up and die.  Pop musician Bjork plays a Czechoslavakian immigrant and single mother named Selma living in rural Washington in 1964.  She has a degenerative disease that is making her go blind, but she keeps this secret so that she can continue to work in the local factory as well as doing odd jobs on her own time to save up money so her son may get surgery that would prevent him from going blind.  This fable of a mother’s love going to the extremes does seem a bit far-fetched at times, but we’re given the perception that Selma is a woman of great integrity.  Selma’s only escape is through her love of Hollywood musicals, and more and more frequently as her situation in the movie deteriorates into greater suffering we see her in imagined musical settings.  The musical numbers themselves are, well, odd.  Not quite parody, I would say, but perhaps a line of dialogue spoken by one of the characters in the film “ordinary people don’t break out into singing and dancing” explains why the characters do not sing or dance well, and the songs contain rather pedestrian lyrics.  But the musical numbers do have their own certain charm and offer insight into Selma’s mind.  The later part of the film is both really depressing, but also overly manipulative as we learn that much of what Selma says and does early in the film is used to discredit her character as she is tried and put to death for murder.  And I won’t even go into the murder scene itself, as it was unspeakably disturbing to watch.  It’s arty and tends to drag a bit but worth watching as it is both beautifully filmed and thought-provoking.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Still, We Believe (2004)

In 2019 I found some old Word documents with movie reviews I wrote back before I had a blog. I’m posting each review backdated to the day I wrote it.

Title: Still, We Believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie
Release Date: May 7, 2004
Director: Paul Doyle Jr.
Production Company: Bombo Sports & Entertainment


With a World Series championship come and gone, it was interesting to re-watch this documentary about the 2003 Boston Red Sox from Spring Training to the heartbreaking homerun by Aaron Freakin’ Boone.  The movie is not really about baseball, and anyone looking for slick highlights or on-the field analysis will be disappointed.  It is a good movie about the fans and how they relate to their team.  Some of the footage captures the players behind the scenes including Pedro Martinez clowning around in the clubhouse, and some insightful interviews with Kevin Millar and Nomar Garciaparra.  But mostly, we don’t learn much more about the players than you would get from watching the games and following the news sources.  Better coverage is given to the owners and general manager, with several candid interviews and scenes including Theo Epstein calling a prospect to let him know he’s been traded.  This movie really wins with the fans, following eight Red Sox devotees through the season as they watch game at home, in bars, and in the stands.  Standouts among the cast include “Angry Bill” the ultimate pessimistic baseball fan whose rants are hilarious.  When he suddenly starts speaking positively during game 7 of the ALCS, you know the Red Sox are screwed.  On the other end of the spectrum there is the easy-going firefighter Steve whose soft-spoken charm steals as many scenes as Angry Bill’s rancor.  Finally, there are the self-proclaimed “professional fans” Jessamyn and Erin whose ticket buying strategies, attire, and quirky superstitions define the length of obsession a fan will go to.  The movie has a low-budget feel to it including poor sound quality and inexpert camera work, as well as an annoying over-reliance on time-lapse photography for transitions, but generally this does not detract from the enjoyment of the film.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Network (1976)

In 2019 I found some old Word documents with movie reviews I wrote back before I had a blog. I’m posting each review backdated to the day I wrote it.

Title: Network
Release Date: November 27, 1976
Director: Sidney Lumet
Production Company:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

A movie made in 1976, it is both dated and timely, and at times positively prescient.  Dated because the technology and fashions of 1976 seem woefully inadequate compared to today’s hi-tech glitz.  Timely, because it takes on the issue of whether news is information or entertainment, and whether newscasters are delivering the news or preaching a gospel.  Prescient, because although this movie was made to be a satire, in some ways it could be a documentary on news networks today.  Howard Beale, the “mad prophet of the airwaves” is not too far removed from today’s angry on-air pundits.  A TV show about a left-wing terrorist group’s escapades precedes reality TV by 25 years.  Ned Beatty’s frightening monologue about the Saudis and corporations even summarizes the greater power that country and big companies have in the US political process in recent years.  The first part of the movie showing Howard Beale’s demise and the cynical use of the television network execs to use his madness to boost ratings is the better part of the movie.  The second part of the movie gets bogged down in a subplot about Howard’s friend Max and the program director Diane getting involved in an extramarital affair.  I suppose it’s all supposed to be a comic parody of how Diane scripts everything including her own life, but the scenes are hurt by the overly self-referential dialogue and misogyny. The fact that Faye Dunaway (who plays Diane) can’t act a lick doesn’t help these scenes either. The aforementioned Beatty monologue and a hilarious scene where TV execs and Marxists discuss how they will share the profits of their TV show save the second half of the movie. An interesting footnote, the phrase “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” is Howard Beale’s catchphrase is in wide circulation today, but apparently originated in this film

Rating: ****