Tuesday, May 11, 2010

2009 in Movies . . . Part Two

This is the continuation of a list (found here) I threw together in January. I'd meant to get around to in but was soon distracted by something. I can't remember what it was. Probably something shiny. I decided to post it today rather than generate new content. . . . ENJOY!

Away We Go

I don't like Sam Mendes. Upon its release, I got sucked into the American Beauty hype, then later realized it's a pretty bullshit remake of Big that relies on a pot-smoking dad playing the role of the rebel child. Jarhead is the most latently homoerotic depiction of the military, yet it's still not interesting. I wanted everyone to die in Revolutionary Road. So with this smaller-scale flick following on the tails of an Academy Award contender, Away We Go seemed like a politician putting on a Carharrt and ordering a sandwich from a truck to show the little people he's still one of them. Which is why I was so shocked to find myself enjoying it as much as I did.

As I've gotten older and been close to friends who have children, I've realized that parenting seems to be a never-ending series of concessions. Every expectant parent has this value system that will work in tandem with a series of ideas and traits they're certain they'll pass onto their child. "Our child will never watch anything Disney." "Our child will never drink soda." "Our child will not touch the ground for the first three years." And you listen to this with a straight face meanwhile knowing that in two years (if they haven't left it at a fire station ) this terrible monster will be clad in mickey ears and a pink gown while using a rusty knife to puncture the side of an Ecto Cooler. (Do they still make those?)

I wonder about the kind of father I'll be. When the subject has come up with my friends, it seems most men would have taken from the givings and mis of their own fathers to shape the dad they want to be. The goal being to better relate to their own child than their father did relate to them. Take notice of where their passions and strengths may lay and do what we can to foster those. Then reality kicks in and I start to realize I might be a really shitty dad. What if my attempt to relate to my child end up, "So, do you kids still skateboard?" Getting frustrated that my kid knows what a tool his dad is. And that I spend Saturday night sitting quietly in the kitchen while my child entertains company in the living room. Entering occasionally to see if anybody wants me to make more popcorn. The Girlfriend? Off in the Bahamas with my child's Step-Man that she met at the singles Yoga class she said had a better instructor. What am I talking about, oh yeah . . . Away We Go.

It's sugary sweet. Yes. John Krasinski rides the border of being charming to being irritable and unbelievable. Maya Rudolph's face has always kind of bugged me. But Away We Go really got to me. It takes these soon to be parents and places them on a road-trip where they see the types of parents their friends have grown into. The results scare the shit out of them. Dave Eggers wrote the screenplay for this and I think that's what really separates it from Mendes' other movies. Where the couple in Revolutionary Road are naive to such an unbearable degree to the point you can't stand them on the screen. (Everyone says 'they're supposed to be irritating' which I think is such a cop-out defense. You can make a character ugly or undesirable and still be able to relate to them. For that dramatic pull to exist, you really have to care about a character.) With Away Eggers makes a similar couple with similar wants much more human and with whom I really make an effort to understand. And it's charming. And it's ultimately sincere.

Julie and Julia

It was strange that people attacked Meryl Streep for playing Julia Child as a caricature. Have these people ever seen the real Julia Child? She's the closest thing to a real-life walking, talking Muppet this world will ever know. It was in watching a re-run of her cooking with that small Frenchman that I turned off the TV and told The Girlfriend we had to go watch this movie now. Watching Meryl work brought a smile to my face. This smile was quickly wiped away by Amy Adams. It's not that Amy Adams is a bad actress or that she tries to market an okay face. It's that her character of Julie (based on the blogger whose stunt is the basis of this movie)is one of the most atrocious monsters in the history of le cinema. She represents that privilege and that demand of being seen and being recognized as important so as to get a pat on the head (by the way, you people need to start commenting more) that I can't fucking stand such entitlement for a minute. This movie just came out on DVD, watch Meryl. Watch the first scene with Amy Adams (just so you know what's there) then fast skip forward scan past the rest of her. Oh, and you'll get hungry watching this. Bring a fine cheese.


Zombie movies are like Diet Coke. With the latter, you can indulge yourself and never take in a single calorie. With zombie movies, you can see the human form subjected to the most violent deaths imaginable and laugh without feeling any type of guilt. They allow you to enjoy something seemingly indulgent, with no recourse. It's when that fluff becomes the core of your being that a problem presents itself. I've seen too many kids with a camera work to produce something that's intentionally derivative of this most stale of genres. They don't want to make a movie, they want to have fun and drench the audience in fake blood. So that's why I've had a particular contempt for the reemergence of the zombie in popular culture.

Zombieland was the last in a triple feature The Girlfriend and I took in at the Brew and View. I wasn't even certain if we'd hang around for it, as we were there to check out the second title playing. In the end, Zombieland was the most enjoyable of the three and one of the funnest times I've had since Inglorious Basterds. Granted, four hours of drinking preceded it, but I'm certain the sober mind would feel the same way.

The movie plays out like a cross between a video game and a TV game show. And that's not a slight, it drops the pretension of trying to be a serious movie in favor of embracing it's Diet Cola-ness. With that it drops the cliches. As The Girlfriend pointed out, there isn't that moment when a comrade is bitten and must be killed at the moment of conversion to the living dead. The characters that are formulaic seem in on the joke and have fun with it. Added to that, the movie has one of the best (most well-kept) cameo appearances since In the Army Now.

Inglorious Basterds

There's that video for Bjork's Bachelorette. Where she writes a book which is turned into a play where she writes a book which is turned into a play where she writes a book which is turned into a play. The construct of the cast becoming the audience watching an audience who have become the cast was pretty brilliant and that same device is put to use in Tarantino's 7th movie - Inglorious Basterds. Much like Zombieland, Inglorious unleashes its most vile fantasy on the other socially acceptable beast of burden: The Nazi. However, the tables turn . . . not on the allied forces, but on you the viewer.

With each new entry, Tarantino displays a new strength. In Inglorious, he shows us his ability to just wring the fucking tension out of a scene. Part of this is due to the director, but another part is greatly due to Christoph Waltz who is at once so slimy, yet so intelligent and so imposing whenever he's in frame. (I'm pretty sure he'll never have a role this good again.)

Inglorious Basterds isn't a war movie. It's a war movie for movie buffs. One of the irritating things about Kevin Smith is that he writes these characters who speak the way he wishes the world would speak. Where even the most ancillary of characters knows the entire roster of the Justice League. But what he does is a sin committed by every screenwriter. The world they create is the one they'd like to believe exists. What Tarantino does is borrow from movie buffs who meet people from other lands. We immediately dive into our only global point of reference and ask how movies from their countries were received in their place of origin. I've seen Man Bites Dog and know what the overall American consensus of Man Bites Dog was, but do you guys in France like it or do you consider it exploitative garbage. For all I know, that could be your Saw. So in Nazi occupied France, it's Pabst and Riefenstahl and King Kong who bring everyone together. It's the movies that unite the cultural divide.

Where the Wild Things Are

It's kind of bad when the trailer is better than the movie. I was really looking forward to this one since hearing that Spike Jonze was deep in the Narnia shooting a script written by Dave Eggers. When that trailer came out set to the music of Arcade Fire, I was scouring the web for a release date. Held off on seeing it so I could experience it with my nieces and nephew. They saw it without me and gave it a pretty unenthusiastic "meh." Finally watched it last night.

It's eight slacker roommates in fur who decide to build a skate ramp in their backyard at the behest of a kid whose mom really needs to put her son on Adderall. The movie doesn't do well enough a job of establishing why Max creates this world. Nor does it do a well enough job of creating anything. Blah.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Eh. Wes Anderson is a guy who really uses style to tell the story. There's nothing wrong with that. I think Anderson inspired and introduced an appreciation for the visual aesthetic that had long been absent until Rushmore, and fully realized in Royal Tenenbaums then attacking its creator in Life Aquatic. I think that the events on screen end up being incidental to the style which surrounds them. Some enjoy this and I can understand that. I've said that The Royal Tenenbaums feels more like a book than it does a movie. And that could easily be attributed to the strong use of setting and structure instead of the conventional dialogue-driven. This wouldn't be so much of an issue, if his movies weren't touted as being so goddamn important.

I liked Fantastic Mr. Fox in that it does away with the pretense of being that important movie and can fully regale in being a masturbatory exercise in fashion aimed at kids but not really. Taking your kids to this movie is like buying your kids the toy you always wanted. I can't imagine a child's interest being kept by this movie. (My brother says his daughter was pretty bored by it.) On a technical level, I really appreciated the craft that went into making this and found Anderson's style to be perfectly suited for the piece.

District 9

Come on, it wasn't that good. Just because it's mainstream R-Rated sci-fi doesn't mean you have to dote over it.

An Education

It actually ends with a Rocky training montage! And Alfred Molina, grow a fucking pair!

A Serious Man

I liked it. But I think I would have loved it had I been Jewish. Not a dig. I'm sure there's a Jewish person out there that doesn't fully grasp American Me. I think this movie necessitates the lifelong struggle, guilt, and burden inherent with being Jewish. The Coens are reverting back to their Ladykiller/Intolerable Cruelty streak. Please, boys, take some time before projects.

The Road - The Watchmen

Here's the bitch about adaptation: If you remain faithful to the source material, you have done nothing more than transcribed. If you deviate and introduce an element that might not have been in the source, you'll be crucified for your blasphemy.

It was pretty ridiculous to read through the criticism of Zack Snyder's Watchmen. I mean, the guy translates a work of fiction that even Terry Gilliam said was 'unfilmable.' He fights to release a theatrical version that runs 2 hours and 40 minutes (4 hours on DVD)-ultimately reducing the movie to box-office diminishing two-showings a night (whereas something like Iron Man could squeeze in four-screenings per screen) and he still catches shit from the likes of those who suddenly consider the graphic novel to be on par with the bible and are pissed off that The Comedian fights back in the opening scene. If they'd stop squabbling in some attempt to show how they understand (thus love) The Watchmen more than you, they'd see it's a pretty damn good realization of a far-fetched, over-reaching comic book.

The Road ran a little differently. Most people who read Cormac McCarthy's book wondered how they'd make The Road into a movie. The book is made up almost entirely of one man's inner thoughts as he and his son traverse a path hoping to reach a place away from the unexplained destruction. Turns out the movie was pretty much that. But without any voice-over narration (thank god) we fill in the blank as the man and boy schlep a shopping cart along. While the actions and few events which occur in the movie remain faithful to the book, the only possible deviation would be in what the father is thinking about. Since we're not given that information, we leave the theater thinking, "yeah, I guess that was the book."

I'm a big fan of McCarthy. Would call him one of my favorite authors. The Road is probably my least favorite of his books. This book is more Hemmingway and it's good for what it is but it's pretty far removed from what he normally writes. Extremely descriptive while still often succinct passages. Flowery language the likes of which even a Harvard scholar would have to look up. He drops in words that unless you were a rustler at the turn of the century, you'd have no clue as to the meaning.

What I'm saying is you should skip all these movies and read Blood Meridian or, The Evening Redness in the West.


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me... said...

Funny story about how we hopped in the car and drove across the country when I was six months pregnant...minus the part where I don't have a weird face like Maya Rudolph. And I'm not really an Eggers fan, but he really did capture the anxiety of impending parenthood quite well. Watch it again when you're on the verge of procuring a tiny pants-crapper of your own. And Julia Childs somehow inspires me to be more ladylike.

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me... said...

Child. Not Childs. Not Julia Childs. Julia Child. Man, I hate typos.

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