28 December 2010

27 Dec - "He hates these cans!"

The Jerk (1979)

dir. Carl Reiner

Steve Martin (It's Complicated, 2009)
Bernadette Peters (Anastasia (voice), 1997)
M. Emmet Walsh (Romeo + Juliet, 1996)
Carl Gottlieb (Clueless, 1995)
Bill Macy (The Holiday, 2006)

On Christmas there was a Freaks and Geeks marathon on IFC, which I alternated watching with the Mythbusters marathon on Discovery Channel. F+G is on my netflix queue (I'll start watching it after I finish the third season of The Tudors, I'm DYING to discover what becomes of Anne of Cleves), so I though I'd get the one-up, but one thing those nerds are always talking about is 1) The Jerk, 2) Stripes, 3) Caddyshack, so when I saw The Jerk on TV, I tuned in.

First of all, can anyone prove to me that Steve Martin was ever young? He must be one of those guys who went gray in his 20s, or else something frightened him very badly as a child. One time my cat got sick and I had to feed him with a syringe connected to a tube that the vet stuck into his neck, and his whole face went white (he's one of those Siamese cats with the black faces), but then he got better and his colors went back to normal. Evidently Mr. Martin was not so lucky.

This is like a slapstick comedy, and it's pretty funny, but ultimately, not my cup of tea. I enjoyed it, but I was not guffawing the whole time. I can see why the boys on that TV show liked it.

On another note, I decided to remove all incidences of the label "female protagonist." Because that shouldn't matter, right? I didn't have a label for "male protagonist," because all too often the neutral gaze is assumed to be male, specifically, a white male. It reminds me of a creative writing class I took in college, and we read a classmate's assignment and were discussing it, and I pointed out that it wasn't until almost the end of the story when some line of narrative made evident that the protagonist of the story was Asian, and it was surprising, maybe a little jarring, because until that point I had tacitly assumed she was white. The other anglos in the class, even the teacher, agreed that they noticed the same thing. We had a whole conversation it. So anyway, no more of that, ok?

27 December 2010

26 Dec - "You call that a knife?"

Crocodile Dundee (1986)
dir. Peter Faiman

Paul Hogan (Flipper, 1996)
Linda Kozlowski (Village of the Damned, 1995)
Mark Blum (Desperately Seeking Susan, 1985)

Crocodile Dundee II (1988)

dir. John Cornell

Paul Hogan
Linda Kozlowski
Luis Guzmán (Punch Drunk Love, 2002)
Juan Fernández (Arachnophobia, 1990)
Stephen Root (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1992)

Oh gosh, you guys, sorry about the extended hiatus, but I just couldn't bring myself to blog about the myriad Christmas movies I've been watching (topping the charts: A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), starring the inimitable Michael Cain). Last night, however, I watched a pair of films of such cinematic excellence that they could not be denied comment.

I may have mentioned before that this is my favorite era of film. Because it still hasn't lost that theatrical aspect of older movies and yet everyone seems so excited about being modern. Of course Bret Easton Ellis's (omigosh I did it again) take on the same era is completely different. He saw the opulence, the modernity, and the high-society lifestyle as something very sinister and corrupting, while the movies I prefer are full of adventure and optimism. And yet you still get echoes of that darkness in Crocodile, I could see Richard, Sue's yuppie boyfriend that she ultimately dumps for Mick Dundee, having an alternate life not unlike Patrick Bateman. Similarly, Sue takes Mick to a high-class cocktail party where everyone is phony and superficial, and a man in the back room is snorting cocaine and Mick naively thinks he has the flu. By the time we get to the sequel, Mick has acclimated to city life, but many of the social mores and regulations remain illusory (The second movie opens with Mick fishing with dynamite on the East River, and the police laugh it off and let him get about his business. Mick copes with the culture shock by transforming New York into the Australian Outback, and playing by the rules that were applicable there, when he interacts with others, who at first don't understand him, he allows them to enter into HIS reality, and they are soon behaving in ways that would have been unusual).

The plots of both stories are a bit contrived, the second (in which the couple is being pursued by Columbian drug lords across the outback) more so than the first (in which a newspaper pays a reporter to interview some random dude in Australia and also pays for his visit to New York City). My favorite scene is at the end of the first movie where Mick and Sue are playing telephone with some colorful characters on a crowded subway platform. This is where Sue confesses that she loves Mick. I love it even more because as soon as this happens the movie ends on a sudden freeze frame with no denouement whatsoever.

One website pointed out that this movie is the only reason for the success of the Outback Steakhouse franchise. I guess that makes sense, they've sort of been riding the Australian fetish for a long time, I don't even think Olive Garden rubs it's ethnicity in your face that much. Of course, the "wild man" aesthetic will NEVER lose its appeal. Even in these movies, where you think it would be obvious enough, FREQUENT references are made to Tarzan, just in case you forgot why lean, wiry Paul Hogan with his leathery face and clear blue eyes was totally irresistible to New York urbanite professional Sue Somethingoranother. It's because he's REAL, he's ADVENTUROUS, and all those parties where the men look like women and the women are ambiguous (unless you're wearing a cocktail dress that leaves nothing to the imagination) and nobody ever says what they really mean and no matter how polite you are you still might be a sick fucker who murders a prostitute or your best friend at the end of the night, well, that stuff just sucks and I think if given a choice between staying in that cesspool or moving to the Outback with a dude who owns a goldmine, there wouldn't even be a contest.

I've probably overanalyzed this. But you know, I like movies about the 1980s.

19 December 2010

17 Dec - "If I have to hear any more of his ridiculous owl jokes..."

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)
dir. Zack Snyder

Jim Sturgess (21, 2008)
Helen Mirren (National Treasure:Book of Secrets, 2007)
Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, 1993)
Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, 2003)
Hugo Weaving (The Wolfman, 2010)

You'll recall I have been eagerly awaiting watching Legend of the Guardians since I first heard of it. Well, I finally got to watch it On Demand last night and you know, it exceeded all of my expectations.

I guess there was never a big fuss about this movie because no one (well, presumably some people) ever heard of the books it was based on. I'd like to point out that even though Legend of the Guardians was based on THREE books in a larger series, the plot still flowed smoothly and unforced, unlike certain adaptations of novels concerning schools of witchcraft and wizardry.

Besides being about owls (which are awesome) what we've got here is a classic adventure story about a group of misfits teaming up to defeat a great evil. Isn't that the essential formula behind The Goonies (1985), Lord of the Rings (published 1954), and Star Wars (1977)? Not that this is even almost as awesome as one of those movies, but I think they could all hang out at the same cafeteria table, get it?

The story is about a young barn owl named Soren, who is kidnapped with his brother Kludd (obviously sinister) by some race-supremacist owls who think that barn owls should rule over all other owl kingdoms. This is a picture of barn owls. Kludd, who has self-esteem issues (I think of him like the younger brother in American History X (1998)), swiftly turns to the dark side, but Soren makes a gallant escape with a super cute elf owl (elf owls live in cacti) They team up with a burrow owl and another kind of owl (??) yo seek the help of a legendary group of owl warriors sworn to protect owl kind, but end up playing a critical role in rescuing masses of enslaved owlets (those are baby owls) from the evil Pure Ones (those are the villains I referenced before). So you've got a great good v. evil, triumph of the underdog kind of story. Great success.

15 December 2010

Dec 13 - "Are you glad to see me, or is that a shotgun in your pocket?"

Scrooged (1988)

dir. Richard Donner (The Goonies, 1985)

Bill Murray (City of Ember, 2008)
Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981)
Carol Kane (Jawbreaker, 1999)
Robert Mitchum (Out of the Past, 1947)
Sachi Parker (Back to the Future, 1985)

On the list of underrated Christmas movies, Scrooged tops the chart. Of course, everything Bill Murray is in (besides Garfield) is worth watching several times over, he probably has other Christmas movies that I can't even remember right now. This one is about a dickish guy who gets visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve and subsequently decides to change the way he lives his life, who can't get behind that? My favorite ghost was always the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Carol Kane plays that one very well. She's funny and she hits Bill Murray a lot. I presume you all know about A Christmas Carol, so I don't think i need to go into any great detail. It's December, so everyone needs to be watching Christmas movies. Try this one.

14 December 2010

Dec 12 - "I have never known anybody who actually believed that I was enough"

Love and Other Drugs (2010)
dir. Edward Zwick (Glory, 1989)

Jake Gyllenhaal (Jarhead, 2005)
Anne Hathaway (Alice in Wonderland, 2010)
Oliver Platt (Lake Placid, 1999)
Judy Greer (Jawbreaker, 1999)
Hank Azaria (Pretty Woman, 1990)
Jill Clayburgh (Running with Scissors, 2006)
Kimberley Scott (Flatliners, 1990)

I've begun that bad habit where I end up seeing movies that I EXPLICITLY pointed out not wanting to see. I saw this one a few days ago with my stepmother and my aunt, and I can't remember any lines from the movie to put in the blog title, and since it's so new I can't look up any lines on the internet.

So I had to go to the movies with my Aunt Holly and my Stepmother Sarah. I thought: Oh! Let us view Love and Other Drugs for some innocuous fun times! Aunt Holly invited a septuagenarian friend!

And here's why you have to do your research before heading to the cinema, everybody: 1) Cyrus was not very funny at all; 2) Love and Other Drugs has a LOT of sex in it. And bare asses. And so many breasts. SO I was a little chagrined to see so much nudity and getting-it-on with relatives present. But actually, Aunt Holly is a good sport and went off on how Anne Hathaway talked about her nude scenes with Jay Leno but that Jake Gyllenhaal seemed more reticent to do so.

On the whole, I could see how much of this sexiness was important to further the story. However, I think a few times, like the part where Gyllenhaal's character
and his brother (I just realized that the female lead has no friends) go to a "pajama party" which only functions to drive home the point that neither is into chasing skirts anymore.

The female characters, besides Hathaway's, are all shallow and transparent. They are either conventionally pretty or else pointedly unattractive (Sorry, Judy Greer, I still like you). Either way, they are falling over themselves to impress Gyllenhaal (The one lady who rejects him, a successful pharmaceutical rep., does an abrupt about face near the end and gets its on with Gyllenhaal and another lady). Basically, all women are interchangeable and whorish, except Anne Hathaway's character because she is "scared of being vulnerable." Because only reclusive artists can have emotional pain, right? It couldn't be that Judy Greer's receptionist character had some shit going down inside her as well. Because she's plain, and acts nice to her friends anyway, and smiles when she meets a cute fella'. Whatever.

My LEAST FAVORITE trope in film = The free spirit. (I hope i didn't go off about this already)
Guilty Parties
1) Natalie Portman as "Sam" in Garden State (2004)
2) Zooey Deschanel as "Summer" in (500) Days of Summer (2009)
3) Charlize Theron as "Sara" in Sweet November (2001) - I suppose the same could be said for Sandy Dennis in the 1968 original, but in my opinion that movie invented the trope, so it doesn't count as derivative (Like your grandmothers occasional racist slur, old things can be forgiven a multitude of sins).
4. all of them!

13 December 2010

Dec 11- "I saw a guy at the state fair that was a little bit bigger"

What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
dir. Lasse Hallström

Johnny Depp (Benny & Joon, 1993)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Quick and the Dead, 1995)
Juliette Lewis (From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996)
John C. Reilly (Cyrus, 2010)
Mary Steenburgen (Elf, 2003)
Crispin Glover (Dead Man, 1995)

I pulled an old favorite out of my PERSONAL DVD COLLECTION because I put netflix on hold for the holidays. Let me first say that this movie is iconic Johnny Depp to me. I think what always gets me is how everyone keep telling Gilbert, "you gotta do better." Because poor Gilbert isn't just responsible for his own mistakes, but he has to take care of everyone else too. So there's thing buildup of responsibility and guilt that's really kind of a bummer. I guess it's a good movie for anyone who's feeling stuck in place, because the end moral seems to be that you have excise all of the dead weight, burn your home to the ground and start all over again. Or maybe it's that the confines in which we find ourselves are in fact artificial. You get wedged in so tight that you forget that leaving is still a viable option. I dunno - I'm getting allegorical.

So this has some great performances by Johnny, obviously. And Leo DiCaprio plays the retarded younger brother, and I've read some interviews about him playing this role and I don't remember the details but that it was interesting. This might have been his first major film. My major criticism is that they changed the character Becky from the book into an older, hippy-dippy free-spirit type. While in the novel she was younger than Gilbert, self-involved and meaner. The opposite of hyper-responsible Gilbert and she leaves him at the end. Juliette Lewis plays a nice Becky, and so I'm not sure why she likes Gilbert so much.

This is kind of a lousy entry, considering this is one of my favorite movies. I'm guess I'm just in a gloomy-gus mood. Sorry, gang.

09 December 2010

9 Nov- "Who ever told you to fight back?"

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
dir. Todd Solondz

Heather Marazorro (The Princess Diaries, 2001)
Brandon Sexton III (Empire Records, 1995)

I'd say this comparable to Napoleon Dynamite (2004). In that I remembered what my professor in Anthropology of Colonialism said about that movie. She said something along the lines of how horrible it was that everyone in this town was trying to assert this identity of a dork onto Napoleon. Because Napoleon did him feel himself to a dork, rather, everyone else was freaks and idiots. The main character in Dollhouse was a junior high school student named Dawn Weiner, who is mercilessly teased by everybody. There's one scene where she is made to read an essay titled "Dignity" in front of the class, and she is repeatedly interrupted by the teacher yelling at her to read louder. This is mirrored by a scene near the end where Dawn is reading to the entire school, and the whole audience starts shouting, "Wienerdog! Wienerdog!" but she keeps going anyway.

That's where the similarity ends. If you like this sort of movie, I suggest you just watch Napoleon Dynamite and give this one a pass.

And then there's this wierd bit with the bully, Brandon, who keeps telling Dawn that he's going to rape her after school, but I guess he actually liked her because he never did. It's a very odd relationship that develops out of fear and mutual awkwardness

The ending was terrible, or I didn't get it. I just don't think there was any character development. The nasty people stay nasty, and the relationships that develop all fade away. Dawn asks her older brother if school ever gets any better. He says no, it doesn't. The status quo never changes, and you're left with the feelings that all of these conflicts are unresolved, and all of the battles will have to fought over again. That's lame.

8 Dec - "We're modeled from trash. Junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps. Convicts, maybe, just so long as they aren't psychos"

Never Let Me Go (2010)
dir. Mark Romanek

Carey Mulligan (Pride & Prejudice, 2005)
Keira Knightly (Pride & Prejudice, 2005)
Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, 2010)
Domhnall Gleeson

Oh gosh, this movie was really sad, everybody. Since I was in the movie theater, I shed a sniffled like a champ and bit my knuckles until I didn't feel so bad anymore, but certainly there will be a day when I'm at home on the couch with a glass of red wine and I watch Never Let Me Go and dissolve into a snotty mess of sobbing and it will be like the world is ending. Because is the world really worth living in if Kathy and Tommy can't be together? I submit that it is not.

Movies That Make Me Cry (Aside from the above)
1. Finding Neverland (2004)
2. Field of Dreams (1989)
3. The Secret Garden (1993)
Aside: The synopsis for this film: "A young British girl born and reared in India loses her neglectful parents in an earthquake..."
4. Gladiator - with the sad music and the wheatfield and his family running to meet him again! Arghh!
5. ...I can't think of any more.

So, um, in case you haven't been keeping up with the recently released sci-fi dramas, Never Let Me Go (based on the novel of the same name) is set in Britain in a distopian alternate past (I think it's supposed to be the 1960s-80s), wherein most medical problems have been solved by a system which creates people as organ donors. The story follows the lives of three such children, who address the conflicts typical of a coming-of-movie, all with this looming shadow of ultimate demise. It's very bleak. The whole movie is very washed out, there is not one sunny scene and there are no primary colors. Carey Mulligan was particularly good, especially since her character rarely says anything. Keira Knightly did her thing okay, too, but unfortunately her character was provided with few redeeming qualities.

I think it might be too soon for me to talk about this in much depth at all. It was a very affecting film.

06 December 2010

Dec 6- "It's hot as balls, everybody's an asshole. I just wanna go home"

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)
dir. Goran Dukick
Patrick Fugit (Saved!, 2004)
Shannyn Sossamon (The Rules of Attraction, 2002)
Tom Waits, (The Outsiders, 1993)
Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire (TV), 2010)

The title is deceptive, because there's actually one wristcutter in this movie. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful movie, the best I've seen in a good long while. The movie starts with a suicide scene, and there are a couple flashbacks to other character's suicides as well, but for the most part everyone is sort-of alive in this movie, and there's a really nice redemptive ending.

It takes place in a sort of Limbo for suicides, which is just like our world except it's always hot and never sunny, and nobody ever smiles. In, The Inferno, Dante describes a place called the "Wood of Suicides," or "The Wood of Self-Murderers" (which is heavily drawn upon in What Dreams May Come) where those people who rejected God's gift of life were trapped in oak trees and tormented by harpies. Dante said that when the time for resurrection came, the suicides would still be trapped in their tree-bodies, because they had freely given up their own bodies.

This world of suicides is not so dramatic. Zia, the protagonist (maybe a play on Zion?), says that everything is the same, just a little bit worse, and he thinks about trying to kill himself again, but he's afraid he might end up in an even worse hellhole. The journey is driven by his desire to find his ex-girlfriend, whom he discovers kileld herself shortly after he did, and by the aims of a pretty young woman, who believes she has been placed in this world by mistake.

So I kept making these assumptions while I was watching. I guess I'm pretty full of myself when it comes to guessing storylines. At first I thought we were going on a Dantean journey through the seven levels of Hell, and then I thought that maybe Our young Heroes would discover that they actually in Heaven, once they got over whatever made them miserable in life. What actually happened was much weirder, and I was delightfully surprised. So I don't want to give anything else away, because this is definitely one that everybody has to watch.

03 December 2010

December movie wishlist!

1. The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
I already said some stuff about this a few posts ago, but Dawn Treader was arguably the best Narnia book of them all.

2. The Warrior's Way
Combining my new love of Asian films with my old love of American westerns: An Asian assassin is forced to hide in a small town in the American badlands.

3. The Tempest
This is funny, I was just thinking the other day that they would probably never make a film adaptation of The Tempest because, in my opinion, it is the weirdest of Shakespeare's plays. I mean, what the heck is Caliban's deal, anyway? But here you are. Neato.

4. Somewhere
I was ambivalent about Lost in Translation, but the synopsis of Sofia Coppola's newest film sounds so much like a Bret Easton Ellis Novel (intellectuals refer to Bret Easton Ellis). So I'll probably watch it On Demand sometime in the near future when I'm up late at night at my Mom's house...someday.

That's it for December! We'll have to wait and see how many times I actually get to go to the movies. As far as November went, I was 0 for 6.

02 December 2010

Dec 1 - "What idiots! Now you're friends again!"

Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

dir. Alfonso Cuarón (A Little Princess, 1995)

Diego Luna (Milk, 2008)
Gael García Bernal (The Science of Sleep, 2006)
Maribel Verdú (Pan's Labyrinth, 2006)

Lately I'm really into the foreign films, if you all don't mind my sounding snooty for a moment, they just seem more sophisticated than American movies (what? more sophisticated than Miss March? Indeed!), and I'm not just talking about the sex scenes.

I said last time that I saw parallels between yesterday's trashier raunchy comedy and today's profound exploration of identity and personal growth. So, they say that there are no new stories, just new ways of telling old ones. Well, we've basically got two stories about young guys on a road trip talking about their cocks a lot. Except in Y Tu Mamá También (So titled because when Tenoch confesses that he banged Julio's Mom, Julio responds...) it seems nicer because they're doing it in Spanish.

The climax of the movie is pretty intense, also kinda hot. Like I said before, the story is very straightforward, Tenoch and Julio are two buddies who are taking Luisa, an older woman who just left her husband, to a beach that doesn't exist. But they discover stuff about themselves along the way. It's nice, but the climax is weird, and the denouement is a bit of a downer, but sometimes you can't really expect a happy ending. These Spanish movies are all kind of like that (I was thinking of Sex and Lucía, but I guess I watched that just a few days before I started blogging about all my media adventures [not exactly true, I also watch a lot of TV that I rarely talk about]).

I guess what makes this movie seem smart is the constant allusions to the world outside of the story. There was this weird stylistic thing where the camera would occasionally drift away from the protagonists and follow a background character for a brief period. I suppose this was to show the greater context of Mexican life. The political tumult that everyone seems to be involved with except for our two young heroes. These tangents were sometimes accompanied by narration describing something horribly tragic which happened to the person or place Our Heroes were passing by, but sometimes it was left tacit, the military stops another car by the side of the road and the protagonists laugh and laugh about something stupid. But we know better, we are the omniscient audience.

01 December 2010

Nov 30 - "People hate firemen!"

Miss March (2009)
dir. Zach Cregger, Trevor Moore
Zach Cregger (The Whitest Kids Y'Know (TV) 2007-2010)
Trevor Moore (The Whitest Kids Y'Know (TV) 2007-2010)
Craig Robinson (The Office (TV) 2005-2010)

So if you all have not seen the sketch comedy troupe The Whitest Kids Y'Know on the IFC channel - I suggest you get into that, because they are way funny. Trevor Moore and Zach Cregger are both in it, but for some reason their three colleagues don't get to be in the movie.

So - as any basic comedy movie goes, this one doesn't really stand out as being very clever. It's a lot like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, except without all the racial humor, which you'll probably agree is the only thing that made that movie stand out from the panoply of bawdy-young-guys-on-a-road-trip movies. Cregger plays the straight-man, just like he generally did on Whitest Kids, while Moore plays the whacky wild-card. There are shenanigans involved, I liked the part where all firemen are insane and hell-bent on vengeance.

I'm glad I watched Miss March though, and that I was late to post my response, because this morning, while I was waiting for the Charter Cable technician to fix my internets, I watched another movie! And although it was a super-l33t foreign film (psych! It was Mexican!) I saw a lot of parallels. So watch out for that and remember that the most banal items of pop culture (Dude, Where's my Car?) are the ones that will make you seem super-cultured in fifty years when you talk about them. As a 22-year-old, I'm pretty certain of this fact.