Feb 18, 2010

Movie Reviews @ The Temple

(500) Days of Summer – This movie would have fucking destroyed me exactly 2 years ago. Fortunately, I just now saw it. It’s “not a love story” according to itself. Mostly because it’s about a failure of love. It’s still a love story, just mostly an unhappy one. This movie has a lot of hindrances to being good. My “not love” affair with Zooey Deschanel continues unabated. I just can’t stand her and it baffles me that people think she’s good. To her credit, she did learn a second expression for this movie, she can smile now. Up until now it’s just been that bland, distant, I’m so cool/quirky/aloof stare and monotone voice. She was more of the same in this movie. Joseph Gordon Levitt I would be fine with, but any time someone wants to extol his virtues, they mention Brick, and I fucking hated Brick, so I tend to associate him with that. Narrators are rarely a good idea. It’s also yet another indie love story. You know, I realized this week that in 20 years we are going to look back on the era of indie teen movies the same way we currently look back on 80s teen movies. Now-teens will cherish them, the rest will say “jesus fuck, we watched that?” But, as they are the cool thing to do, and they are filled with generally decent music and quirky dialog, they are hard to dislike, even as they are being obnoxious. But, I eventually have to explain that first sentence. The movie expresses a side of heartbreak I didn’t know was common. As a rule, one should never consider their experience unique, if you’ve done it, I promise you many many other people have done it, and if you think you’ve cornered the market on sadness, or shame, or getting a raw deal, you are mistaken. Nonetheless, I didn’t realize this was common enough to make a movie that is supposed to resonate with people. This is spoilers here, so run away if you haven’t seen it and care, not that any of it is oh em gee shocking, it’s mostly spelled out to start with, but it’s the story, so I don’t want to ruin anything. The story is a “not love” story because he doesn’t get his girl of his dreams. That’s not so uncommon. He is kind of a hopeless romantic who, even with all that happens, never gets over his hope. The very end will have some people, I think, saying that it ruins the thrust of the movie, that it takes away the sting. I would say that if you feel like this guy feels, if your experience is like his, that it makes sense. But that story is familiar to a lot of people, even those outwardly non-emotional folks like me. There’s a good deal of this movie that’s annoying because it’s cliche – how he thinks they connect because of their love for some stupid indie band, how he acts to get her, and when he loses her, and when he tries to get her back. Kind of standard, and so I start to roll my eyes, but it all has a kernel of pathetic truth most of us can recognize, I think. The parallel fantasy vs. reality scene in particular is wonderfully well done. We have all done that, fo sho. The real knife twist comes when she can’t commit to him, yet shortly thereafter marries someone else. I had an astoundingly word-for-word reflection of this story in my own life, and that kind of floored me. And, in as much as I don’t like Zooey’s coldness, or Joseph’s stillness, they came together in that moment to hit me like a ton of bricks. The look on his face when he is desperately grasping for some glimmer of an explanation for how she can possibly have left him broken because she couldn’t give that, and then can have turned around and given it to someone else. Yikes. And the matter-of-factness with which she shatters him, and then trots off seemingly without a care is beautifully devastating. This movie starts with text that tells you immediately that this girl is the villain. I assumed it would be trite and she’s just a bitch. Or enraging because she cheats on him. Or simple because she’s just an ugly person. But these are not the things she does to him. It is an indescribably painful thing to be told you aren’t good enough. And yeah I know we’re all “good enough” for some set of people. Hell, in the end, that was the best thing that could have happened to get me where (and with whom) I am now. Moreover, I know that one’s worth has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else. I’m not starting a pity party here. I am, however, saying that that indescribable pain was described in that moment. And I don’t think I ever expected to see that.

The Hurt Locker – I’m not totally sure why this movie was gotten such praise. There are parts of it that are very good. The slow stressful demonstration of what it is like to do that job (which, if you aren’t familiar, is bomb-squad in iraq). We are left to assume that this is a very accurate description of that job. Of course, I’ve heard from The Internet in the past few months both that it is totally spot on, and that it’s total bullshit. So, that’s what the internet has to offer here. But assuming it’s correct, it certainly puts you on the edge of your seat. But besides that, the movie isn’t very good. In the first place, the hero is this hotshot douchebag who we are supposed to hate, then love, then hate, then understand deeply. Mine went more like hate, hate less, hate more, then call bullshit. So, that’s no good. But hey, maybe that’s what guys who do this job have to be. You can’t pay some athelete M$20 a year to beat the shit out of guys weekly on the field, and then be shocked when he beats the shit out of a guy off it. Maybe I can’t expect a guy who works next to something that can blow him into unrecognizable bits to not be a hotshot or thrillseeker or to love his job more than anything or anyone else. But my second big problem with the movie is it insists on becoming an action hero war movie. This is a movie about the bomb squad. It is not GI Joe, so why the holy fuck are they off doing other shit? I know, it’s Iraq, stuff happens even if you don’t choose it. Any guy, from soldier to medic to bomb squad to mechanic can be caught in an ambush or an attack. Nonetheless, these guys are taking out snipers, going on rambo missions killing bad guys left and right, getting kidnapped, etc etc. They try to play it off, they even at one point say that there are infantry right behind them ready to do this job, and we are left to chalk it up to the hubris of the main character. But come on, I thought this movie was a sobering look at the unbelievable demands of working inches from death with a whole city block’s lives in your hands. I didn’t need this action hero crap. It’s not a poorly made movie, it looks good, people act well, dialogue is solid. It just misses the mark by a mile, kinda sad.

Zombieland – Pretty fun movie. I was really worried at first, it just seemed like Scream for zombie movies. A really meta self-aware pomo movie with its head up its own ass. Fortunately it’s not, usually. Which isn’t to say it’s not unbearably standard. Just like Scream, even though it mocks its own conventions, it still adheres to them. There still has to be a love story that starts contentious and a wild hero and a big battle and all that. But the overriding impression is a pretty fun ride. Crazy zombie kills, funny dialogue, ridiculous set pieces, all fun. It’s not Shaun of the Dead good, that was meta and pomo and all that, but it had a sardonic layer that was essentially never peeled away. This movie is more about the sort of over the top violence and idiotic (but funny) humor. I don’t necessarily need to see this one again, while I’d certainly watch Shaun just for fun.

Spellbound – Documentary about kids in spelling bees. I’m not sure what it’s going for, in the end. On the one hand it’s interesting, the behind the scenes. Not super interesting, but interesting. But it’s also kinda really sad. One parent goes out of their way to tell a story about another parent telling them that this stuff amounts to child abuse. The parent laughs it off and says not her kid. But some of these kids are really messed up about the competition. The losers all say “well at least I don’t have to do this anymore.” Granted, a whole assortment of adult losers say that too, but it’s odd coming from these kids, to see that weight lifted. And in any case, just because adults regularly experience something doesn’t mean a kid ever should. They are all weird kids too, of course. And this only serves to increase their weirdness. Sure, it’s charming that for these nerdy kids this is the one place where they are cool and respected. But I can’t imagine this doesn’t serve to increase their isolation. Then again, I was a band nerd, I was in academic decathlon. Then again again, I spent most of my life isolated. Then again again again, plenty of my peers managed to be very social while doing those things. But, these kids are weirdos, and they will continue to be weirdos doing this, and I can’t see that the spelling bee champs end up ruling the world. And the pressure, jeeeeeez. I mean, that Indian kid, I don’t know if he knew this, but everyone else knew, and told us, that if he won some relative in India was giving some bunch of money to some bunch of people. C’mon! You can’t put a whole village on a 10 year old’s shoulders! Anyway, the movie is worth watching, I guess, but it isn’t exactly uplifting, even though one of the kid’s wins. Kinda weird.

The Weather Underground – Documentary about, as you might imagine, The Weather Underground. What you might not imagine, however, is wtf TWU is, cuz I didn’t know either. Apparently, we had a serious case of the domestic assholes blowing shit up in the decade preceding my birth. Somehow this completely escaped my historic knowledge. But these guys, an offshoot of an offshoot, didn’t so much like that vietnam war thing, so they decided to blow the crap out of bits of america until it gave in. Didn’t work, obviously, but wow I can’t imagine living then. The actual threat of every few months something exploding, that’s crazy. The people were basically overzealous hippy anarchist douches who thought that a nonviolent response to violence is violence. The documentary is pretty well done, it is largely lead by interviews with the actual people, so you have some faith that it’s telling the truth. Hearing about these things i had no idea happened was a little mind blowing. It’s not an amazing movie, I don’t know why it won awards, necessarily, but it’s certainly good. It also explains the origin of the scene in Across The Universe where the hippy douche blows himself up trying to make a bomb to kill a bunch of army people. Cuz that actually happened. Christ.

Goodfellas – I’m pretty sure I saw this once, but I watched it again just in case. I won’t say much about it, because it’s all been said and because I think I’ve seen it. But I at least have to write down that I saw it so I don’t watch it again. Not that I shouldn’t, it’s a good movie, worthy of its praise. I still need to see the Godfather movies, but presumably besides those, this is probably the best mob movie around, unless you count the modern ones (The Departed is better, for instance). Anyway, good movie, good De Niro, good Pesci, good Liota (aww, remember when that was true?).

Transsiberian – Kinda random movie. A couple is on a train (I’ll leave it to you to guess which) and some crazy shit happens. It’s not really a good movie. Its almost a classed up version of Hostel. Bad guys, blood, horrible situation, blah blah. At the same time, it is better than it has any right to be with that premise. I still wouldn’t say it’s a good movie, necessarily, but I couldn’t bear to give it 2 stars on Netflix, because it’s just not that offensive.

Land of the Blind – I love what this movie was trying to do. It’s essentially a farce, which I find myself distinguishing from a parody. I’m sure there’s a real definition, but it feels to me like a farce. It’s not making fun of something, it’s kind of exaggerating a situation to make a point. The thrust of the movie is that revolutionaries who overthrow a tyrant inevitable turn into tyrants themselves. Which is an awesome subject matter. I don’t think it’s a super original subject, but it’s not like it’s been done to death. And certainly all the revolutionaries of the world have not internalized this message. I’m looking at you, ron paul supporters. The movie is, as I say, exaggerated, it’s not exactly a subtle transition from revolution to dominion, for time reasons if nothing else. The movie is a bit too farcical for my tastes, whoever. it seemed a little to loose with the jokey jokes, and the exaggeration instead of heightening the point, seemed to take away from it. I can’t say anyone did a bad job, necessarily, but somehow the movie doesn’t come together for me. It doesn’t resonate, it certainly didn’t shock me (I hope that wasn’t the intent). I can’t quite put my finger on what was wrong. Intellectually I love the concept of the movie. But as a movie watcher, I had a persistent feeling of disappointment.

King of California – Weird little movie. Michael Douglas is this sort of crazy modern treasure hunter. His daughter is the girl from across the universe with three names. It’s a pretty simple movie, and honestly if told about it I wouldn’t really think it sounded that great. But the movie does get you, a little. It’s pretty cute, Douglas is pretty charming as this cooky old guy. The girl is tolerant and sweet. I can certainly imagine not liking this movie. If you told me you thought it was too quirky, trying too hard, or just plain annoying, I would believe you. But for whatever reason, it struck me kindly, and I thought it was nice.

Planet B-Boy – Wow. I did not expect the quality of dance in this movie. Honestly (and in retrospect, arrogantly) I figured I had seen breaking, and it wasn’t really going to shock me. I’ve seen so you think you can dance, I’ve seen america’s best dance crew. This is the best there is, so I must have seen the best, yeah? Nooooo. They have a lot of clips of the history of breaking in the intro section of the movie, and it’s really amazing. Every single bit as good as the best moves I’ve ever seen before, and some things I never had. The rest of the movie is about a the big yearly competition (though “big” is defined as like $4k, split amongst all winners, kind of sad). It follows two korean teams, a japanese, french, and american team. The stories are pretty interesting, the contest is interesting. I wish they showed the whole damn routines. This is so often the problem with these dance things, they forget that you are here to watch dance, not clips of dance! My personal preference for breaking is always the group work. Individual moves can be mind blowing on a trick by trick basis. But the flow of a solo performance doesn’t do it for me, I don’t like the happy feet in between sections. This movie shows a lot more of the solo than the group, because of the edited performances. Nonetheless, really fantastic moves, I don’t know why all the breakers on TV aren’t pirating this stuff, it’s really fantastic. But for the group performances, I think I’ve seen better. There were some cool concepts, but nothing that blew my shit away like JabbaWockeeZ or something.

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