Movies Of Late…

As per comments that my reviews of things run long when I clump videos and movies along with TV and music, I’m going to only do movies and TV here. I’ve got another post on books in the works. These will be quick-capsule reviews, for the most part.

  1. Martian ChildSaw this in Seoul with Lime. She found it a little too “normal,” as in, the supporting characters were just a little too predictable for her tastes. I haven’t read the original story, though I have read other things by David Gerrold, but I found the movie entertaining in how it explores the way metaphors can take shape and meaning in our lives. Too bad the character had to be writing such crappy SF. Swords? Space? Why couldn’t it be a little less retarded than that?
  2. Samgeori GeukjangThis movie was, for the most part, great! Okay, in the odd bit I wished it took itself just a tiny bit more seriously — and there’s a fifteen-minute chunk at about 1’30” where to me, the movie fell apart briefly, where something happens that violates all the rules of the film as I took for granted, and is seemingly justified on the grounds that it’s all fantasy, after all — but all in all, it was still extremely entertaining, and the best musical I’ve seen in Korean film.
  3. Running with ScissorsWhat a strange story — and it’s autobiographical. This film was bizarre but wonderful, not for the weirdness, though I like weirdness for its own sake, but for the sake of the way the characters in it stay as sane as they can despite the weirdness thrown at them from without and from within.
  4. Charlie Wilson’s War

    I’m surprised when people claim this film stays away from criticism. (It’s been claimed online, anyway.) This film is a screaming, shouting, dire warning about how everyone is eager to  get the hell out of Iraq as soon as possible.

    I should say something about the film, and I’ll say it’s quite competent, the characters amuse, especially the one played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who I think is probably one of the best actors we have today. The film also hammers home the fact that America’s current puritanism in terms of the sexual life of its elected officials is silly, as there can be a huge disconnect between one’s messy private life and one’s more effective, focused, and professional public life. (And, in fact, all the scandals we see suggest this: after all, you rarely hear people claim that a politician slept with his secretary and it caused him to mess up the state’s budget, or vote badly; rather, his having slept with his secretary is enough for a scandal. Even if everyone involved is okay with it.)

    But yes, this film is waving its arms and screaming a political message — it’s not one about the past, though. It’s about right now, and anyone who misses it isn’t paying enough attention. It’s saying, “If America pulls out of Iraq right now, bad things will result.

    But it also entertains. Though it’s nobody’s best work, I found it worth my while.

  5. JunoOverrated. I don’t get why so many people are praising it. The dialog was utterly contrived all the way through, the characterization was weak, and the best I can say about the performances is that the actors did the best they could with the material.

    As with #6 in this list, it’s not so much the politics of women (or high school girls) choosing the keep their unplanned pregnancies — after all, pro-choice implies they can choose to keep such offspring, or carry it to term, or whatever — as the fact this and Knocked Up suggest to me a trend of films about females whose lives are positively transformed by pregnancy.

    Which in itself shouldn’t disturb us… after all, many women and even some teenagers who have babies without planning it report their lives changed by the experience. Some young women credit their own growth to adulthood, to sensible, responsible people, to their teenaged pregnancies that they kept. And honestly, human beings were designed to mate and have offspring. Women being stuck with the harder part suggests there’s also probably all kinds of psychological incentive built in to take care of children — that parents, but especially mothers — should be programmed to change once they have offspring makes total evolutionary sense.

    But on the other hand, what’s odd is to see women — Juno, the woman who gets Juno’s child, and the female lead in Knocked Up — whose reactions to parenthood are so comparable. They’re suddenly as good as they can be to the (unborn and later born) offspring as they can be. There doesn’t seem to be so much struggle. An instructive point of comparison is the mom in Martian Child, the sister to the David Gordon character, who issues enough warnings to signal that motherhood isn’t easy, isn’t simple, and at least for some women, just doesn’t click into place. (Probably for very few parents of either sex is it that easy.)

    And this is the troubling part: the fact that motherhood-as-transformation is a myth that, in these films, doesn’t even require much more than a bulging abdomen.

    All that said, Juno sucks much less than Knocked Up, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

  6. Knocked Up It never ceases to amaze me what crap people fall in love with. Knocked Up has generated so much ink and so many pixels of praise, condemnation, and discussion that Bill Hicks’ comment about Basic Instinct comes to mind. You know, where he reminds people that Basic Instinct is a turd of a movie, and any more ratiocination about it is simply a waste of thought?

    Forget the plausibility of the coupling in the film — it is plausible enough, by the way, in lots of parts of the world for a woman that attractive to end up with a guy that unattractive — and forget the ethics, the gender roles, the politics, all of that. You’re way ahead of yourself.

    Knocked Up is a film that fails as a drama, fails as a comedy (as the jokes actually have to be funny, while most of the dialog in this film is so far beyond retarded as to warrant deletion), fails as any kind of statement about anything. It’s trash. Let’s just move on.

    And fix our education system, hopefully. Because if this is the signal comedy of the kids who are in their 20s now, the nulls’ version of The Graduate, then we’re screwed. That’s right: I think this film’s popularity signals an even further drop in the net intelligence of Western civilization.

  7. Cloverfield

    Someone asked for my reaction to this film and I said it was basically “Blair Witch Project Daikaiju.” And that’s true, but I got a great kick out of it just the same. It’s by Bad Robot, the same people who (I think it was) Dead Like Me, one of the best TV shows so far of the nulls. There was a lot of ambition in this film, and at least, instead of some silly explanation pulled out someone’s backside, they chose to leave things a semi-mystery. I had fun, and that was the point. So, well done!
  8. Wyatt Earp Cowboy films aren’t usually my thing. This was okay for a naptime in my hotel room while traveling, but I gave up on it because sleep was more attractive at that time.
  9. Cocaine CowboysI learned a lot about the connections between underground or criminal industries and the generation of across-the-board legitimate industry that can arise from it. But much of this exposé bored me a little, especially the interviews with the sleazy ex-traffickers.
  10. Transporter 2

    Um, well, it was good enough that I left it on while packing my bags late one night. But, like, I wouldn’t pay money to see it.

  11. The Ice Harvest

    This was good, dark, nasty fun. I especially have a new respect for John Cusak.

  12. Let’s Go to Prison

    Insanely funny, a little predictable but with some killer twists as well, and it made me laugh out loud — the only film during my trip that (intentionally) did so. This one I would recommend to anyone.

  13. The Golden Compass

    I can’t remember whether I posted about this before, but I found this alright. There were weaknesses, but they were the kind I’m willing to overlook in general for good, adventurous fun. I’m very amused that some Catholic groups have come out against it. Maybe there’s something in the books about churches, but the film is devoid of such comments.

    In fact, it’s only if you interpret the movie in a way very unflattering to the Church that an analogy can be drawn. That is, the Magisterium is a totalitarian, power-grubbing, soul-stealing, and nasty organization that silences researchers and scientists, and presents itself in the most positive light possible while trying to control the world. One is inclined to wonder about those Catholics who look at the Magisterium and see the Catholic Church in it… I mean, when your neighbour complains about how you put him in your book, and a day or two later you realize he means the character next door who beats up his wife and children, what can you say but, “Hey, dude, you said it, not me!”

    The more charitable interpretation is that maybe there’s something more anti-religious in the books, or that Pullman’s unapologetic atheism (in the past — he seems to have toned it down lately) is drawing snipes and criticism. I haven’t read the books, so I don’t know.

TV SHOWS

  1. Rome, Season 2

    Not blowing me away. I haven’t finished it yet.

  2. The Sopranos, Season 3

    Blew me away. I finished it very quickly, like, in the space of a few days.

  3. Lost, Season 3

    People who complain about Lost have what is to me an inexplicable lack of patience. It’s a great show, better than Season 2, and Lime and I are watching Season 4 as the episodes come out. Good, clean, weird, specfictional fun.

  4. Heroes, Season1

    This might be rude, but the reason Heroes was so popular was that the dummies lost interest in Lost around that time. Heroes is not groundbreaking if you know anything about superheroes, it’s all been done before, but then, the guy writing the series probably doesn’t know that, as I’ve been told he prides himself on his own ignorance of the genre. I watched it, I may follow the second season, even, but I was not impressed with the beginning. The nicest thing I could say is that it got a little better as it went along. But the fact it took me months on end to finish Season 1 says something. I will admit the last few episodes were a compulsive watch, though.

18 thoughts on “Movies Of Late…

  1. I thought Knocked Up was really funny, but they could have trimmed about thirty minutes off it. I think it’s only serious problem was pacing. Juno is the film that Knocked Up could have been, if the director pushed the envelope a little bit.

    The Ice Harvest was a brilliant little film. I thought the book it was based on was one of the best first novels I’ve read in a long time, and I get through quite a few of those.

    The Transporter 2 easily surpassed the original. I could have done without the kid, but I thought the action sequence were a lot more kinetic, at times, almost as visually arresting as what the Coen brothers did at the end of Blood Simple with the shafts of light.

    Cocaine Cowboys was interesting, but at times a little bleak. I’m surprised more people don’t do documentaries like it – true crime is always more compelling than politics, unless they intersect in some unsavory manner.

  2. Really? Yeesh, my thinking is exactly the reverse: Juno came out way better than Knocked Up. Seriously, all those deadpan jokes between the guys? Not one of them even amused me. I wanted to slap several of them several times.

    Not because I’m prim, dour, and uptight — I have a sense of humor. But I shouldn’t think people were happy to pay to hear the same lame gags and quips that weren’t even funny in high school.

    Transporter — it’s all very vague in my mind. I have flipped through the original — jump, jump, jump — and found it kind of boring too. Like, a vehicle for a handsome white guy and a pretty Asian girl to interact onscreen. That director seems to like that dynamic.

    I think people do more political documentaries now because the US is in the middle of a dire political/social crisis (at least in the minds of people willing to sacrifice years of their lives on these projects, or on speaking tours like Naomi Wolf is right now — her talks are quite scary, really) and people care about that desperately — the filmmakers I mean — while few people care so much about true crime that they’ll spend time on it.

  3. Hmm. I found Cocaine Cowboys fairly interesting, mostly because I live across the street from the Dadeland Mall that features so heavily in the beginning of the movie.

    Charlie Wilson’s War, though? Really?

    Either the previews are severely representing the movie, or “Charlie Wilson’s War” is the most revolting piece of fascist propaganda ever put out by a mainstream movie studio. The first time I saw a preview in a movie theater, my jaw dropped, and I still haven’t gotten over my shock or disgust about the basic premise.

    I really don’t care whether the movie includes ‘criticisms’ or ‘subtleties’ or ‘balance,’ the bottom line is portraying a guy involved in funneling U.S. support to one of the most vile political movements in modern history (recall that the Mujahadeen’s anti-Soviet war slogan was “they are teaching our women how to read”) as the plucky flawed-but-lovable guy battling against the odds for a noble cause.

    …and who is this ‘everyone’ who’s eager to stop killing men, women and children in patrols and bombing raids in Iraq? (Let’s be honest with ourselves here. In real world terms, that’s what ‘staying in Iraq’ means. Continuing roadblocks and armed patrols, which the locals will shoot back at–just like Americans would if the roles were reversed–and continuing massive violent retaliation against insurgent activity.) Last I checked, the mainstream consensus in both parties was that ‘we have a responsibility’ to stay in Iraq. Clinton and Obama, both of whom vote to continue funding with clockwork consistency, try to put an anti-war spin on their positions, because that’s what the majority of the public wants to hear, but if you look at the fine print, neither plans to get entirely out anytime in the term of office they would be elected for.

    (To me, whether we have a ‘responsibility’ to stay there depends entirely on whether the people who live there want us to stay. As far as I know, every poll that’s ever been done of the Iraqis–including polls I’ve seen cited on Fox News, etc.–confirms that the overwhelming majority want the foreign troops to leave immediately, and for that matter that the majority supports armed attacks on U.S. troops. I’ve never heard *anyone,* even the most rabid supporters of the war, suggest that this is not true. As such, how does that not settle the issue? The people of Iraq are not some piece of pottery to which ‘you break it, you own it’ rules apply, they’re a nation composed of human beings who should have a right to self-determination.)

  4. Whoops, looks like I garbled that last comment a bit. I really loved Juno, and thought it was a lot more clever, original, and just plain more likable than Knocked Up. It’s easy to root for the plucky teen mother, but a little harder to find the thirty something stoners plight sympathetic.

    It’s been years since I’ve seen a dramedy about pregnancy – the last one was Citizen Ruth, an interesting failed experiment, as any way you hack, slice, or dice it, abortion is a real comedy buzzkill.

    I liked Charlie Wilson’s War because while there is definitely a political message, everyone involved in the production never lost sight of the bottom line – putting out the most entertaining product imaginable.

    I wrote a review of Charlie Wilson’s War when it first came out:

    http://www.markguppy.com/2007/12/silly-rabbit-tits-are-for-kids.html

  5. I watched the Golden Compass, thought it was OK, and then read the book, which is much, much better (and also very, very different). I don’t know if the book is more “anti-religious” than the film, but then again, I’ve only read the first book so far. I’ve ordered the trilogy online and am waiting for it to arrive.

    So you liked Lost 3. It’s good to hear that not everyone has lost patience with it. Did you read my review of the season? I’d be interested in hearing what you thought about certain issues, via email maybe.

  6. Ben,

    I agree that funding the people who ended up getting funded in Afghanistan was disastrous for Afghanistan. (And that’s not missed in the film.) Now, I don’t know enough about what the scene was like in Afghanistan to say, but it’s depicted this way:

    1. Wilson ends up visiting there after major waves of relatively brutal (ie. massacre) Soviet invasion, knowing that the budget going there is paltry. He encounters what is represented in the film as a consensus among Afghans who seem widely to want to be armed and sent to fight off the Soviets.

    2. He returns, and then agitates for more money to be sent there, using all his favors and so on.

    3. Policymakers decide to funnel the money through specific groups, meaning the guys who were yelling, “They’re teaching our women to read!” This ends up being a pretty quickly mentioned policy decision by someone behind a desk.

    4. History as we know it happens, but with a strong focus on the fact that the US, after the Soviet’s were beat off with a stick, pulled out without establishing anything further in terms of development, infrastructure, aid, or (especially) education.

    5. History thereafter happens as we strongly regret it.

    So to me, the movie seems to describe a problem with “exit strategy” policies, which seem to involve leaving in power whichever thugs were recruited to do the original dirty work.

    It’s fascinating stuff, especially the role of education in postwar societies. I’m reading a history of postwar educational reform in South Korea, and the role of the US there is in some ways profound, despite failures to influence the system in (what I would consider) positive ways that are also profound.

    And yeah, I think part of the big problem about Iraq right now is that any presence there IS going to have to involve military presence, which is going to keep the Iraqi people under occupation and only exacerbate the domestic problems that exploded after the US invasion. But just as the Iraqi people are not subject to some kind of “You break it, you buy it” policy,” neither should it be thought that the US can simply say, “Whoops, broke your country. Sorry. Well, have a nice day.” I suspect the real problem is that so much of the redevelopment going on there is not human — not mass education programs, the reestablishment of higher education and training, but rather pseudo-development that puts money in the pockets of contractors, as well as huge military expenditure. Without human development, the problems the US created (and the problems that predate any US involvement too) will be self-perpetuating.

    As for the “will of the people,” I’m sure more people would welcome American nonmilitary presence if it were devoted to rebuilding all that was bombed flat, to education and development, and so on. And again, the people in Afghanistan who wanted Americans to stay out were the same lot who wanted women to remain illiterate, who silenced anyone who might have wanted American influence to continue (such as women and moderates and intellectuals and so on) and who indeed ended up in charge. Brutally so. Having a right to self-determination means little when you’re abandoned to live in poverty under the warlords someone else’s government skyrocketed to prominence, if you see what I mean.

    Mark,

    Yeah, Juno is certainly less horrible than Knocked Up but I still thought it a failure. I am wondering whether this is starting a trend in pregnancy films, and hoping not. It’s just kind of… I don’t know. Meta-political, maybe? There’s so much potential for manipulation there, I guess.

    As for CWW, I don’t find entertainment and political messages to be mutually exclusive, so think even less evasiveness would have made it a better film. And yeah, your review was part of the reason I was curious to see it.

    Charles,

    I have the first book of the Pullman trilogy on my shelf, but haven’t gotten to it. I should, huh? (I also have some BBC TV movie of the first book from another series of his, if you’re curious… The Ruby in the Smoke? I haven’t yet seen it.)

    Yeah, I saw your review of Lost 3 as well, and it sounded about right to me. Feel free to email me about those issues, as there are tons available to discuss. I’ll try to remember not to mention anything from Season 4, as Lime and I are watching those as they come out, these days…

  7. Looking back at your post, I’m not so sure Juno is about “motherhood”, as it is about love – young, middle-aged, and old, as well as family relationships. Pregnancy is just the motor that gets the meditation on the subject going. The titular character doesn’t want to be a mother, and the pregnancy drives a wedge between, and ruins the relationship of the older couple that wants to adopt. The crisis bring Juno’s family closer together but at the end of the day, what Juno goes through makes her realize who her true love is. The pregnancy is a device that helps accelarate the conflicts and tensions in the story. Knocked Up really was about pregnancy, but there was a lot more going on with Juno.

  8. Mark,

    Hmm. Interesting argument. I wonder how much of that I might have agreed with if Knocked Up hadn’t been floating around in my mind when I saw it. But I do know I would still have thought the dialogue was unbelievable and I would probably still have been uncomfortable with how the pregnancy seems to make everything better. (Sure, it splits up the adoptive couple but this is better in a “the truth comes out, no longer living deluded” kind of way.)

  9. I liked the dialogue, but it’s almost a given that dialogue can be problematic in “teen movies” written by people who aren’t really teenagers to begin with.

    The adoptive couple being split up is a little more problematic. I don’t think it’s just a matter of “the truth coming out”. Bateman’s character is quite obviously not ready to grow up. Given his age, one would assume he would be ready to settle down. He isn’t quite the man that J.K. Simmons character is, and along with Juno’s boyfriend the film presents a bleak view of more contemporary forms of masculinity. I think the one flaw with Juno was when it was released; comparisons with Knocked Up were inevitable, and the film suffers (unfairly) because of that. It get’s pigeoned holed as a pregnancy comedy/drama, when I think there is a lot more going on.

  10. Even if it had been released at a different time, I’d have been put off by the dialog, which rang too false for me. I think because it was stylized in a setting where (unlike Buffy, where everything is stylized) that came off as fake.

    Interesting thoughts about masculinity. I thought both films made men look like big babies. By “the truth coming out” I mean that Bateman was not ready for a kid, being, mentally, relatively close to one himself.

    One interesting argument I read somewhere (about Knocked Up was that the film contrasts male sexuality with the life-changing, reproductivity of female sexuality, and questions the “strength” of males confronted with it.

    But I still hold to the Bill Hicks theory on Knocked Up.

  11. I thought Juno had a pretty stylized look. Reitman really went in for tight, close up shots – it was positively clausterphobic. The kids were wearing so much American Apparel I thought the film was set in the eighties – until we saw the yuppie McMansion. It also had the twee, indy-punk-folk soundtrack which matched the overall retro look of most of the settings and costumes.

    Knocked Up, well, I think I’ve pretty much said everything on that subject.

  12. I liked Transporter 2 a lot, I wish they hadn’t shoehorned in the French detective for not good reason though.

    I kind of agree about Knocked Up.

    Running With Scissors is a pretty weird movie. I wonder how much of it is really true.

  13. And by the way, I’ve neither read the book nor seen the film, but my understanding was that the author of Charlie Wilson’s War was extremely critical of Wilson from the left and opposed the invasion of Iraq. Am I wrong?

  14. Korea Beat,

    Yeah, Running with Scissors is weird. Apparently the book is closer to reality, though I’ve not read it (yet?). Apparently some of the stuff — like the relationship between the protagonist and the older man — were much creepier in the book (and real life).

    My impression of Charlie Wilson’s War is that, as Mark would say, the criticism is muted in the interests of entertainment. I think there was implicit criticism, but it’s the kind where people who don’t want to see it won’t. Like, for example:

    • Republicans who want to praise Wilson for his “achievements” despite him being a horndog
    • leftists who want a movie to rant about
    • anyone else who just doesn’t care to see criticisms when they’re paying money to be entertained

    … which is probably the majority of the moviegoing population. But yeah, I saw criticisms, though also a kind of fondness for the crazy, renegade attitude that went into it.

    By the way, I’m mulling over Ben’s earlier comment about the mujahideen being “one of the most vile political movements in modern history.” I mean, I’m no fan, but are they so vile because it’s in vogue to point at them as the most evil? They seem like rather less inefficient genocidal maniacs than several European states, not to mention several African and Asian political movements. Yes, they treat women like crap, but so do lots of other groups. They’re brutal, but that’s sadly common worldwide.

    What I see when I look at the mujahideen looks disappointingly par for the course with theocratic, or other doctrinal movements (like race-fetishists, or ideology-fetishists) in benighted corners of the world.

    I might be wrong, I haven’t given it a ton of thought, but I am tempted to wonder whether this special new rage against the mujahideen isn’t also fueled by rage at a government that was happy to be pally with them when it was useful geopolitically, and resentful when the same people turned around a few decades later and started biting the hand that once fed them? (The resentment/anxiety that I also suspect got the movie made at this juncture.)

  15. Are you are sure you are using the term Mujahadeen correctly? I thought it was a blanket term that covered a wide variety of groups (not all of them religiously motivated) fighting against the Soviets. The Taliban rose to power because they were the strongest faction amongst the groups, but even then they were a “minority” majority.

    I loved Charlie Wilson’s War because even if I knew nothing about Afghanistan or Iraq it still would have been entertaining; on the other hand, if you do know some of the issues, well you can read it on a deeper level.

    I didn’t go to deeply into the political issues or using history as metaphor for current events when I reviewed it because a lot of people had worked that angle (really well), and I thought working a different angle would make for an interesting review. It’s a critical film, but there is definitely some affection (the rag tag band of misfits working together) mixed in with that criticism.

  16. I’m using Ben’s usage. It’s probably roughly correct — one group of “freedom fighters”-turned warlord often smells like another — but maybe the Taliban was more extreme.

    I don’t really distinguish between entertainment and criticism, though doing both of an audience with an average of a fifth-grade education (if Wendy Kaminer is right in that claim) is extremely difficult.

    I think you’re right about the mix of criticism of, and fondness for, the figures in the story. Like how the rich woman played by Roberts can turn on and off her religiosity as it pleases her. (Jesus never said, “Screw people to get things done,” anywhere, did he? Or “Splash religious rhetoric around to manipulate your more simpleminded fellows”? Yet you have to kind of admire her get-it-done-ness, even as the gorge rises, and even as you find what she’s getting done stupid and short-sighted, and motivated by wrong-headed religiosity as well.

    A weird bunch of characters, anyway.

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