30 May 2011

14 May - "sobriety is for aardvarks, you ass"

Pizza (2005)
dir. Mark Christopher
Ethan Embry (Sweet Home Alabama, 2002)
Kylie Sparks
Julie Hagerty (Confessions of a Shopaholic, 2009)
Joey Kern (The Sasquatch Gang, 2006)
Alexis Dziena (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, 2008)
Mary Birdsong (It's Kind of a Funny Story, 2010)

I would sort this movie into the same group as Welcome to the Dollhouse, which I said was not quite as enjoyable as Napoleon Dynamite. Pizza is sort of like that, too (sorry, this is the best picture I could find without trying very hard). What happens is that this chubby girl on the cover, Cara-Ethyl, has a birthday party with no guests, so instead she runs off with the Pizza guy, who is a would-be intellectual who justifies being a layabout by saying that he's undermining the system, but he's really just using that as an excuse to continue hooking up with high school girls.

Cara-Ethyl is a lot like Napoleon Dynamite in that she isn't so much ashamed of her own weirdness as she decried the stupidity of others. At the same time, though, she really wants to fit in. The trick is that while Cara-Ethyl is the "dork" and Ethan Embry's character is "cool," the real winner and loser of the movie are inverted. Cara-Ethyl is going to Notre Dame where she will find a group of people just like her to be friends with, she'll get good grades and move on from that po-dunk town, while Ethan's going to be a pizza-delivery guy his whole life even until the high school girls are totally over him and his receding hairline.

This movie, was okay, it was kind of cute. I liked the parts with Cara-Ethyl's mom, who burnt herself while making donuts and thus had to wear bandages over her eyes. I wouldn't recommend it except in a very specific circumstance which has yet to manifest. Watch Napoleon Dynamite again instead.

24 May 2011

23 May - "They look like big, good, strong hands, don't they? I always thought that's what they were"

The NeverEnding Story (1984)
dir. Wolfgang Peterson (Air Force One, 1997)
Barret Oliver
Deep Roy (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2005)
Noah Hathaway

Last night I watched The NeverEnding Story with the li'l bro. He's already seen it twice but this was my first time. Before we started, he says to me, "It's about a boy who's reading a story, and then he realizes that the story is about him."

Isn't that just lovely? Isn't that always how it works? In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell wrote something along the lines of how the mythic journey always comes full circle, but in the end we find that that we have only arrived at the center of ourselves. Remember at the end of Return of the Jedi (Star Wars = the ultimate hero myth) when Luke Skywalker has to defeat Darth Vader not with violence, but by looking within and overcoming his own dark feelings of hate and vengeance? That's what I'm talking about.

There's a line in the movie where the Empress tells the hero, Atrayu, who believes that he has failed his quest to save Fantasia, that Bastian, the dorky kid reading the story, doesn't realize that he is part of a never ending story (title drop!), that others (presumably we, the audience) have shared his experiences just as he shares the experiences of Atrayu. Fantasia is supposed to be the actualization of the collectives hopes and dreams of all humans, and so it is limitless in that there is no end to the depth of just a single person.

As a professor once told me, it's just turtles all the way down.

Fantasia is threatened on two fronts, first by the onslaught of the all-consuming Nothing, and secondly by the illness of the Empress, who is the only one able to stop it. Atrayu is sent on a quest to save the world, but comes up empty-handed, except for the knowledge that he's supposed to find a human boy who can heal the Empress by giving her a new name. In the end, he's flying through empty space on the back of the creepy dragon, and he goes to the Ivory Tower floating on a little bit of asteroid and tells the Empress that he failed to find the human child and she says, no, he's always been here, and Atrayu's all pissed off because his horse died and he traveled ten thousand miles and got attacked by the G'mork and whatever, but the Empress says that all that was necessary in order to make the child realize his role in Fantasia.

He needed CATHARSIS, and isn't that what we're supposed to be getting from the movie itself??? Is your mind blown? Mine is!

Dude, you guys! This movie was DEEP!

22 May 2011

22 May- "Twelve is the new twenty"

Zombieland (2009)
dir. Ruben Fleischer

Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale, 2005)
Woody Harrelson (Wag the Dog, 1997)
Emma Stone (Easy A, 2010)
Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, 2006)
Amber Heard (Pineapple Express, 2008)
Bill Murray (Groundhog Day, 1993)

I watched Zombieland with my little brother last night. We had a tough time picking a movie to watch since we just moved and don't have any DVDs or VHSs lying around (I don't even know if my mom kept the old VHS player). And I put my netflix account on hold for the summer, and I don't have a membership to Blockbuster or anything and the On Demand isn't working in the living room for some reason so I had to go back to the cache on my external hard drive and I will tell you, there's not a lot of eight-year-old friendly stuff on there. I almost got him to watch Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which would have been a fun entry on here, but it turned out my digital version was of extraordinarily poor quality and subtitled, at that, so we got like a minute and a half into that before it was nixed. I guess I should buy the DVD, because that's some quality cinema.

So we watched Zombieland, which is also fun times. I think I would like to see Jesse Eisenberg play a more dickish character than his general nerd-type. Not like in The Social Network, because that character was insufferable, but I mean like Troy from The Goonies. Don't you guys think that Jesse Eisenberg could play the preppie asshole boyfriend of the girl that the Hero pines after? I think he could. Step out of your box dude, you don't have to let everyone confuse you with Michael Cera.

I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, that this was the movie that made Emma Stone famous, or at least when we all started to recognize her. One thing I don't get is why, if she and Abigail Breslin are sisters, are named Wichita and Little Rock, respectively, if the characters are named after the cities they are supposed to be pursuing. If that was the case, they should both be named Pacific Playland, or something. I guess the writer was implying that their family moved around a lot.

I have a lot of thoughts about the zombie theme as a metaphor for a certain kind of social anxiety. But I think it would be better saved for the day I review Night of the Living Dead or, at the very least, 28 Days Later. Or maybe I'm just lazy and want to go watch some more TV.

16 May 2011

15 May - "I can only look at it with my hands in front of my face"

The Squid and the Whale (2005)
dir. Noah Baumbach (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 2004)

Jeff Daniels (Away We Go, 2009)
Laura Linney (The Truman Show, 1998)
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, 2010)
William Baldwin (Flatliners, 1990)
Anna Paquin (X-Men, 2000)
Ken Leung (X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006)

Remember a while back when I posted a brief list of movies that make me cry? Well, that's all gone to shit now. The other day I got all teary watching an episode of Bones (You see, there was this little girl getting abused and then the team at the Jeffersonian discovered that she was kidnapped when she was a baby and then they found her real parents who were super nice). So yeah, I emoted a little when Jesse Eisenberg tells the school psychologist about his one happy memory (Gah! Sad times!).

So I guess I express emotion now, and that's a thing. This movie was very sweet. I'll compare it to The Royal Tenenbaums, but not so much for that distinct Wes Anderson style, but the fact that it's about the disintegration of a family and there is also a tennis player in the movie. The performances are amazing. The little boy that plays the younger son is just spot on. He starts acting out in bizarre and alarming ways, but it just comes off as sad and tragic. Jeff Daniels' character was the most confusing to me. Perhaps his redeeming quality was that he failed to realize that he had no redeeming qualities. He was too involved in being his own ideal man that he didn't realize that he was an asshole and demonstrated no compassion for anyone else, only brief flickers of acknowledgement that sometimes they approached his expectations.

The mother, played by Laura Linney, was more sympathetic, but also despicable in her own way. She appears to be the lesser of two evils, but can never seem to wait an extra moment to get the kids out of her house so she can spend some alone time with the tennis instructor.

The synopsis of this films tells us it's about the "disintegration of a family," but in reality the family has been decimated by apathy well before our entry point into the story. The tragedy is that all of the family members are only pretending that they don't care anymore. The father repeats a few times that he thinks there might be some way to save his marriage, but then, "I think I tried everything already." But of course he didn't. He didn't try anything. And at one point when he exclaims, "All that work I did at the end of our marriage, making dinners, cleaning up, being more attentive. It never was going to make a difference, was it? You were leaving no matter what..." And she laughs and laughs and laughs. First, because he "never made dinner" and secondly because that shit doesn't count for anything, am I right ladies? You don't get extra points for doing what you're supposed to do anyway.

I guess you could say that it's a study of the self-involved, and no one seems to be innocent. I think Jesse Eisenberg's character is clearly supposed to be the hero, of sorts. He seems to come closest to redemption. Or if not redemption, at least regret. He regrets having lost something important with the destruction of his family, while all of others seem too eager to wash their hands of all of it.

The title refers to the hanging sculpture of the squid and the whale fighting at the museum where the mother took the older son when he was a child. He says he was always too scared to look at it, but later, when she described it to him at the end of the day , it wasn't so terrifying anymore. Like the squid and the whale, the parents, for a child, are to much to absorb all at once. To awesome to look at without mediation. But then, returning to scene at the end of the film, the son sees that the squid and the whale aren't so terrifying after all. He discovers that his parents are humans, and flawed, and that they have failed to live up to expectations.

13 May 2011

May 12- "Some people call this hell, but you're still in Oklahoma Territory"

Hang 'Em High (1968)

dir. Ted Post

Clint Eastwood (A Fistful of Dollars. 1964)
Pat Hingle (Batman Forever, 1989)
Ben Johnson (Red Dawn, 1984)
Dennis Hopper (Waterworld, 1995)
Bruce Dern (All the Pretty Horses, 2000)

I got this one in one of those double feature DVD sets they sometimes sells at bookstores or in Target or something. The other movie was The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which made me wonder why they hadn't chosen A Fistful of Dollars or, For a Few Dollars More to pair with it instead. I've heard of Hang 'Em High, mostly from a novel I read once about a little girl escaped from a correctional center and that was the only movie she had ever seen (seems like a macabre choice to repeatedly show delinquent kids, but whatever).

"They riddled him with bullets. They strung him up. They left him to die. But they made two fatal mistakes: they hanged the wrong man...and they didn't finish the job."

Sounds cool, right? Well, it is. Sometimes I have a hard time interpreting the endings of these old westerns, probably because the culturally salient themes aren't the same anymore. I think the point was that everybody is hunting for vengeance in one way or another. Our Hero, Jed Cooper, has a tangible scar to prove his point, but his associates, love interest Rachel, and the Judge, are also on a rampage of sorts, trying to figure out how many dead men it takes to heal a scar that no one can see.

Jed Cooper is after nine men who lynched him for a crime he didn't commit. The first one resists arrest and so Jed shoots him in self-defense. Two of them flee the territory. Another one dies in jail. Two more are killed in a shoot out after they tried to finish Jed off, and a third hangs himself before Cooper gets to him. Another is arrested and hanged for murder and cattle rustling. One turns himself in. Because that last guy is repentant, Cooper talks the judge into pardoning him and we are let with the implication that the judge is the worst murderer of the lot. Which I guess is true, in that he sentences men to die. But most of those guys of villains, and someone has to maintain law & order in Oklahoma Territory!

08 May 2011

8 May - "my God! The illusion is shattered!"

Easy A (2010)

dir. Will Gluck

Emma Stone - Zombieland (2009)
Penn Badgley - John Tucker Must Die (2006)
Amanda Bynes - What A Girl Wants (2003)
Thomas Hayden Church - Sideways (2004)
Patricia Clarkson - Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Cam Gigandet - Pandorum (2009)
Lisa Kudrow - Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion (1997)
Malcolm McDowell - A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Stanley Tucci - The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Fred Armisen - Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)

Whoosh! That took a little while. Here is a long cast list of folks I recognized in this movie. But as I'm sure you're all well aware, a shitload of cameos does not a better movie make.

Amanda Bynes played the same character as Mandy Moore in Saved!, which was also better than this movie. I've always felt a little bit bad for Amanda because I don't think she's very funny, but she seems like she's trying really hard to pull it off. Her movies and sitcoms have consistently been seriously lame, and I didn't even like her bits on that Nickelodeon sketch comedy show, All That.

Notable mention: I think the best friend character is one of the Cheetah Girls (that's a super-dorky Disney channel reference, but I'll confess I'm sort of fascinated by [That's So] Raven's career development)

The saving grace of this movie is Stanley Tucci and Patrica Clarkson, who do a fabulous job playing Emma Stone's parents. They are hilarious and awesome and I want them to be in every scene. Let's have a spin off just about them and not this contrived teenager shit.

I'm starting to think that they stopped making good movies in the early 90s. This movie, which had an arguably clever premise (at least as good as Mean Girls, and that was only a pale homage to Jawbreaker), decided to cheapen the whole affair by shoving brat pack movie references down your throat the whole time. Yeah, I know Ferris Bueller's Day Off was a good movie. You are not Ferris, Emma Stone. Stop trying to be Ferris. Reminding me about movies I've enjoyed in the past isn't going to trick me into liking your movie too, gosh.

I don't know if anyone would agree with me. Or if anyone cares. Because we aren't talking about a classic 1980s movie or something that was black and white. But maybe in ten or twenty years someone will be thinking about cinema in the twenty-tens and try to derive some sort of doggy-bag message. And this is what I think of that:

The difference between Easy A and a really good Brat Pack movie is that if this movie had been made in the 1980s the main character would actually have been sleeping around, not just lying about it, and it still would have been just as funny. Remember Fast Times at Ridgemont High? There was an abortion in that movie! And society didn't crumble, we dealt with it! Because what all those movies had in common was a very shameless and dark sense of humor. I think they could have pulled that off here but it would have been a little harder. But not that much harder. And think of how much more poignant the story would have been with Emma Stone really hitting rock bottom but managing to rise above, still cracking jokes, and learn something from it.

I just worry sometimes about what they're teaching the kids these days.

01 May 2011

1 May - "Now that's what I call an idea"

District B13 (2004)
dir. Pierre Morel
Cyril Raffaelli
David Belle
Dany Verissimo

Oh MAN! This movie was all kinds of awesome. You know, sometimes I shy away from the ones with subtitles because I some kind of compulsive disorder where I can't stand to not be doing something with my hands and it bugs me when I have to sit still and read the dialogue, but it's usually worth it, and this this time it definitely was.

Basically, District B13 is a walled-off ghetto in France ruled by a gangster warlord named Taha. Our hero, Lieto, is an idealistic roughneck who believes that the French government has abandoned District B13 unjustly. Lieto's sister, Lola, is kidnapped by Taha and Lieto gets arrested and has to team up with a cop who needs to break in to District B13 to diffuse a stolen bomb. There's lots of mixed martial arts and I think parkour, if parkour is what I think it is. Whatever, it's cool. I don't ususally go in for artfully choreographed fights scenes - I guess I prefer my cinema violence to be a little more raw and blunt, we aren't at the ballet. But this was cool. I caught myself exclaiming out loud "oh shit!" a couple of times. So I guess that's good. I will recommend this movie to male types so they will think I am cool, but they'll be right in that assumption. Because I am.