Friday, July 17, 2009

Ocular Optometrical - Movies Dunn Seen Lately

Powow Highway
- a good little indie film from 1989 starring Gary Farmer, about a couple of Cheyennes from a Montana reservation who go on a roadtrip to Santa Fe to bail out family. Farmer, who made notable performances in Smoke Signals and Dead Man, is always great and can be counted on to give a funny performance with an edge of pathos.

Tyson (2009)
- Director James Toback did an excellent job of setting up the camera and getting out of the way of his subject. Centered around an extended interview with Mike Tyson, edited together with footage from fights and the news, the film succeeds in illustrating the complexity of a human being. Over the course of his long monologue, Tyson paints himself as both a monster and a victim. He embraces his violent nature one minute, makes excuses for his behavior the next and then makes remorseful apologies to those he may have wronged. In Tyson, the subject manages to constantly defy being simply summed up, and the viewer is rewarded with glimpses at a life full of victories and defeats, a product of a commanding personality and the insatiable gears of the entertainment machine. Tyson is hypnotic and contradictory.

The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)
- I love the original. I recommend the original. Nothing about this remake is superior to the original and plenty is worse.

Crips And Bloods
- an unsatisfying documentary that, on one hand, illustrates what little sense of place and self gang members often have, and, on the other, makes several attempts to tie gang culture's origins back to some sort of political reaction to slavery and racism.

Falling Down
- I'd always meant to see this movie, but at the time it came out I had a distinct aversion to Michael Douglas, as he seemed to be the embodiment of smarmy, mainstream Hollywood. He always had a good presence and believable performances, but he was over-exposed in awful, bloated, trite, preachy, junk blockbusters. In Falling Down, Douglas is excellent as the anti-hero, fed up with the small indignities of the quiet life. His actions aren't always believable or earned, but Douglas delivers with a palpable exasperation. Robert Duvall is a welcome foil as the detective on the brink of retirement, unable to give up the pursuit. Although Joel Schumacher's film sometimes feels like the B-roll from Terminator 2 because of its extreme Hollywod vision of a crime-ridden LA, the storytelling is straightforward.

Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen (2009)
- Surprisingly better than Transformers 1, because, even though the plot makes no sense, it's brazenly linear, with no sub-plots derailing the momentum and giving you time to realize just how dumb it all is. Sadly, Michael Bay didn't learn from his mistakes though, and the robots are still indistinguishable from each other, so robot on robot violence continues to be both boring and incomprehensible. Although his line delivery is starting to show wear from all of the big-budget junk he's been in, LeBouf is still charismatic and game enough to be a good lead. Megan Fox is beautiful, and much has already been made of the way the camera seems to leer at her body, but what i found truly gross and misogynistic was the way her character's driving motivation for the entire film, enough to constantly put herself in harm's way, was to get LeBouf's Sam to say "I love you." I said this movie was better than Transformers 1; it's still a terrible, terrible movie.

Year One (2009)
- I'm afraid that Harold Ramis and whoever edited this picture may have brain damage. Otherwise I can't understand why they would have finished this movie and launched that promotional frenzy, instead of being overcome with shame enough to slink away into hiding. Year One could have been a dumb vehicle for Jack Black and Michael Cera to deliver rudimentary jokes about being cavemen or Roman soldiers out of their element. It could have been unremarkable but forgivable. Instead, this movie is one of the worst messes i've ever seen. Throughout the film, Black & Cera spend painful minutes setting up terrible, corny jokes, only to fuck up the punchline or have it cut completely from the scene. The plot is little more than a convoluted excuse for these cheeseball jokes, and still it is incomprehensible with the characters inexplicably walking from one place to another and somehow spanning a 1,000 year gap in history. Even though his annoyed mumbling is the best part of the movie, this hot mess has cooled much of my enthusiasm of Michael Cera.

Dead Snow (2009)
- A contemporary Russian horror movie. I had been anticipating something a little bit more culturally idiosyncratic, especially since the movie centers around Nazi zombies, but i was surprised by a relatively orthodox teens-in-a-cabin plot. It's shot nicely though, and delivers some handsome gore, so it's better than a lot of the PG-13 dreck coming from the states these days.

The Devil's Tomb (2009)
- When friends and I saw the trailer for this, featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. in the lead roll of a b-movie zombie flick, there was something so incongruous about that casting that we were compelled to see it. This movie is bad, in the same ways that most direct-to-video horror films are bad. The staging is often clunky. The lighting makes everything look like a high school play. The acting is inconsistent, and it's compounded by many long expositional monologues. However, I enjoyed the strange mash-up of Lovecraftian creatures and ridiculous biblical explanation. It was fun seeing the odd cast with Gooding, Ron Pearlman, Jason London, Stephanie Jacobsen (the beautiful Aussie from Battlestar Galactica:Razor and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Henry Rollins... I was entertained enough that i forgive its many trespasses.

The Room
- this is a film that has become a cult classic precisely because it is a godawful movie. Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed and starred in The Room. He is not a good writer, director or actor. I think that if I had stumbled on this movie while flipping the channels at 3am, i might stop on it and revel in the trainwreck (like i did with "The Butterfly Effect"), but there isn't a lot of joy in watching something just because it's terrible. I think you need that sense of satisfaction and superiority from discovering for yourself how bad something is (like that movie "Next"). If you find awkward, skeevy love scenes, European "cool" guys in ironed blue jeans, and an interminable story about something or another, hilariously funny, then this is the ironic movie experience for you. I think i'm finally too old, too appreciative of the minutes in my life, to purposely subject myself to a so-bad-its-good movie again.

Unscripted (Series)
- George Clooney was obviously paying close attention when he worked with Steven Soderbergh. Unscripted, produced by Clooney, is an aesthetic match for Soderbergh's fly-on-the-wall style, and the way the show blurs the line between scripted and documentary storytelling by having actors and celebrities playing themselves in loosely improvised scenes. Insider stories about Hollywood are frustrating because they are terribly self-important, but the truth is that they're often interesting. Perhaps it's the fact that we're forcefed that culture so much that we have a fairly strong context for the drama, even as it treats us, the audience, as outsiders. This story about a group of actors, struggling to break into stardom, is funny, moving, and entertaining, despite how familiar it feels at times. The "actors" play a funny sort of heightened verisimilitude that works, and Frank Langella is mesmerizing as the group's acting coach.

Real Life
- This 1979 film is a prescient spoof of the brand of sociological documentary filmmaking of the era like the An American Family, the Up series (7-Up, 14-Up, 21-Up...) that ends up being a pitch-perfect spoof on "reality television" today. Albert Brooks, playing himself, sets out to make a movie about "typical" life, by filming a scientifically selected family, representative of the American mean, 24 hours a day. Of course, everything goes wrong, building to a darkly satiric ending that could only exist in a 70's film. Charles Grodin, an actor i hated when i was a youngin because of his smarmy role in The Great Muppet Caper, is great as the patriarch.

The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh
- Sienna Miller, infamous locally for disdainfully calling the town "Shitsburgh" when asked about her experiences filming the movie, is a terrible actress. This isn't just hometown pride talking, it's an empirical fact, and it's relevant because nobody would fall in love with her character enough to do such obviously stupid, self-destructive things. Blaaaaaaaah.

Night At The Museum
- A surprisingly entertaining kids movie. It's a nice bit of fantasy with a decent conflict, and having those at the foundation give it full permission to indulge in episodic comedy. One criticism, the child actor is horrendous.

Night At The Museum 2 (2009)
- louder, less funny. I'm sure everyone had a great time. Amy Adams does her best with a really dumb character.

Public Enemies (2009)
- Not bad. Mann makes a movie that is both a tribute to old Hollywood gangster films and a comment on

Adventureland (2009)
- As a big fan of Superbad and Pittsburgh, i was really disappointed in this. If your coming of age story is mundane and cliche, that's cool, just don't make an autobiographical movie out of it.

- This was okay. On the one hand, the dreamy, abstract approach takes some of the awkwardness out of the beastiality subject matter and gives the film a lot of atmosphere. On the other hand, by constantly talking around the specifics, it's impossible to walk away from the film with anything other than the preconceptions you started with.

Baby Mama
- crappppppy. Everyone played it middle of the road. This movie probably made within $15 of its projected gross.

1st 3 minutes of Alien Vs Predator 2
- There were some middle-management Predators walking around a red LED-lit room, making copies and checking the thermostat. I couldn't do it.

Bruno (2009)
- I respect Sacha Baron Cohen. He really has an uncanny ability to transform himself and stay in character, and when his satire is really firing, it is a thing of beauty. That said, Bruno, for the most part, doesn't work. Because of Cohen's exposure, there is understandably more artifice than in Borat, but the real problem is that the film's missions, a near split between exposing entrenched homophobia and the vacuousness of celebrity worship, fall flat. Most of the examples of homophobia are actually ambushed people reacting to being sexually harassed. Most of the actual celebrities mocked in the movie are in on the joke and willingly playing along, so it all seems to further perpetuate the acquiescence to fame.

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