Brief thoughts on recent DVD rentals:
Man of the Year:
The premise was a pretty good one: Robin Williams plays a popular comedian/tv host who runs for President on an anti-status quo platform -- and wins! But the execution was lacking. The previews presented it as a straight-forward comedy, but the film also has a somewhat darker conspiracy-laden subplot dealing with election fraud. As a result, there are some jarring juxtapositions. Plus, there are plenty of places were Robin Williams just wasn't that funny -- and definitely not as funny as John Stewart (one of the real-life models for Williams' fictional candidate). Nevertheless, it was moderately entertaining.
Die Another Day:
The last of the Brosnan Bond films. A few months back we rented Casino Royale, the most recent entry for the series, and the contrast is quite stark. Die Another Day was somewhat enjoyable, but at times the trademark action sequences, innuendoes and gizmos were so over the top that the film almost became a parody of the Bond franchise instead of an installment. Definitely glad the series has been "re-booted."
A film about crossword puzzles? How enjoyable could that be? Very, actually. The main arc of this documentary features the 2005 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and several of its key competitors (in all their quirky glory). Interspersed throughout the "action" are segments with Will Shortz, crossword editor for The New York Times and founder of the tournament, as well as other crossword puzzlemakers. Some of the best parts, though, are interviews with notable fans of the Times puzzle, including John Stewart, the Indigo Girls, Bob Dole and Bill Clinton. The film weaves all of these elements together with great success, and the end result is quite enjoyable. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys documentaries. (Fun fact: one of the competitors was a college student, and he was definitely wearing a Trogdor t-shirt in several scenes. Very cool!)
Set during the aftermath of Princess Diana's death, this film focuses on the conflicting reactions to the tragedy offered by the Royal Family and the newly-elected Tony Blair. I though Helen Mirren deserved the Academy Award she received for her portrayal of Elizabeth II, and the film was very well-made. I don't know how factually accurate it was, but I was intrigued by the film's portrayal of the clash between tradition (the Monarchy) and innovation (Blair's modernizing platform) that surfaced after Diana's death. Recommended.