04 January 2010

Two Days, Six Movies: Humpday, Half-Life, Paris 36, Taken, Strange Culture, Funny People

So, keeping up with my renewed commitment to keep track of the movies I watch this year I have six movies to post about from this weekend: Humpday, Half-Life, Paris 36, Taken, Strange Culture, and Funny People. I also watched the first episode of the British series Skins, which my roommate put on because a mutual friend was a fan of it and we were waiting for my boyfriend to come over after work so we could play with my new blu-ray player/Netflix player, which is currently hooked up to my roommate's projector and is just about the most heavenly thing I've acquired in some time, I guess.

Five of the above listed films were rented from a video store where I had a bunch of credits because I had a friend spend an extra night in Chicago and it was too cold to do much of anything else than have a movie marathon. Strange Culture is what I watched via Netflix streaming with my roommate and my boyfriend last night. By the way, there's something really fun about going through the movies on the blu-ray player which is way better than using the queue online. It also feels more movie-ish to not watch them on a computer monitor so I feel like this development will finally get me to watching some of the hundreds of foreign films on my instant queue...

The weekend's movie binge started off with Humpday, which I was very skeptical about and only got because it was on a few critics' best of the year lists. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I mean I won't get into the end because that's kind of a spoiler thing to do and I don't know whether it's possible to make a cut on here and it's conceivable that someone at some time might actually read this thing. What I liked about it though was the dynamic between the husband and wife. It sort of reminded me of me and my boyfriend when we're fighting about something. I thought it was interesting though, the way it played with masculine psychology, though being a man with scant masculine psychology I can't say if it's really that accurate or only seems so to me the way that The Hurt Locker seems realistic to people who lack a fully formed notion of realism, in my opinion. I also liked how it deals with that phenomenon where we lose track of parts of ourselves and find ourselves doing pretty silly things to recapture those neglected fragments. I mean, it's not a great film but not every film needs to be a great film. I like the indie aesthetic. It kind of seems to blend the 90s independent film with a more contemporary sensibility. B

Next up was Half-Life. Of the movies I watched over the weekend, this is the one I wanted to watch again. (Unfortunately I won't have time to do so.) It's another movie that picks up the neglected thread of that spirit of independent filmmaking that had me so fascinated in the 1990s. It's this movie about these Korean Americans in some ostensibly Californian city in what seems to be the near future or alternate present where global warming has led to various problems including an explosion of the jellyfish population which is destroying the fishing industry. All this quasi-apocalyptic stuff happens in the background though and is made more a part of the setting than the plot and I really liked that. The story is basically about this family of a mother, her boyfriend, and her two daughters and the family of said eldest daughter's gay adoptee best friend (His mother is played by LA Law's Susan Rattan!). There are animated sequences periodically and the whole thing leads to a surreal, dreamlike quality which I naturally adore. I was kind of distracted but I really enjoyed it. B+

Paris 36 (aka, Faubourg 36) is a French movie about this theater in a Parisian suburb (I think) in 1936. It gets taken over by some gangster developer who wants to tear it down but somehow he decides he wants to be beloved by the people so he lets the theater put on their variety show. Beyond that it's sort of blah blah blah plotwise. A friend of mine who hosted one of those Sunday morning screenings of it last spring told me it was a mess and looking back on it, I guess it kind of is a mess. It's kind of a dull mess though so it doesn't really come across that strongly as such. I rated it three stars on Netflix though because it was pretty and engaging, even if I was reading blogs and things online during the last third. It's the kind of thing I wanted to like but I guess it didn't really do enough for me. Maybe I'll watch it again and see if it's any better if I'm paying closer attention. I'm not sure it will be. C

I thought Taken looked all right when it came out, based on the trailer, but the reviews weren't that great so I stayed away. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I mean, there's no pretense at art here but it seemed somewhat original in its tone. The things that make other films of this genre kind of cheesy were implemented with a lighter touch here, despite shootouts with gangsters and lurid sex slave stories. I'm not surprised that the director is French. There's something not quite American about this film and I quite liked it. I mean, I don't know if I'd watch it again but it kept me engaged from start to finish and I had a smile on my face through most of it and that counts for something. I mean, I guess the whole sex slave thing can be viewed as opportunistic or exploitive but I liked that it tried to inject some contemporary relevance into a genre film. I felt like the theme of governments and criminals colluding for financial gain was very topical. It's an age of corruption but the movie never got sanctimonious about it and there's no big scene in the movie where Parisian sex slave trafficking gets wiped out, you know, like in those movies where the primary victim is rescued and then there's music and slow motion and sombre faces as bad guys get arrested and countless victims are taken into the arms of the good guys. So, while my appreciation for this film is mostly for executing a tired genre in a fresh and engaging way, I also appreciate the moral ambiguity and the realism that doesn't try to redress the world's calamities in 90 minutes so that we don't have to worry about it at night anymore. B

We streamed the documentary Strange Culture via Netflix.com through my roommate's projector and while the quality wasn't really what you'd get from a DVD, perhaps, it was really kind of impressive, given that you're projecting a movie streaming from the internet onto a screen that large. I mean, I'm not sure how big the actual projection is but it's probably around six feet squared. As to the film, I quite enjoyed it. The story was fascinating to me. It has also those liberal pet themes like government overreach, big business, the dark side of the food industry, man versus the machine, speech. It's about a guy who was part of an art collective that tries to educate people about things like genetically modified foods. One morning, this guy, Professor Steve Kurtz, discovers that his wife has died in her sleep. A paramedic sees science equipment and suspects terrorism. Homeland Security gets involved and tries to paint Mr. Kurtz as a terrorist, despite that all the bacteria in the petri dishes are completely harmless things he ordered from the internet. FBI agents find an invitation to an art show that has some Arabic writing on it and decide that it's proof he's operating as part of a terror cell or something. Eventually, they realize he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction and charge him with mail fraud because he didn't submit a requisition form to the universtity for the $256 worth of supplies he bought. This case went on for four years and the movie doesn't stick around for the verdict, which is one of the things I really liked about this movie, because if you finish with the trial it becomes about the court case and not about something much larger. I think that aspect is particularly fantastic. I also quite liked the way they use actors (including Tilda Swinton) to reenact certain events, particularly at the beginning, and then it switches to a more conventional mode with the real people, then switches back and forth between interviews and reenactments until it goes a little meta and the actors speak as themselves and so forth. I thought it was great. It's experimental and innovative. It tells an important story. It has Tilda Swinton in it being fabulous as Hope Kurtz and fabulously zany as herself. A

Then, finally, we watched Funny People. I actually watched the first half hour before I went to bad that morning and I thought it seemed all right. Like it might have potential. Sadly, I soon discovered last night that the potential was quickly disposed of and it went on for way too long. I'm going to get all SPOILER here because it was a bad movie and it doesn't seem like I shouldn't. Anyway, this movie would have been better if Adam Sandler stayed sick. Or, even if it ended shortly after he found out he was going to live. Instead it sticks around for another hour or three with this dull story of him trying to get back his ex-girlfriend, who has been married for 12 years to Eric Bana, with whom she has two children. The bits with Seth Rogen and his friends are slightly entertaining but there's too much about this irritating comedian and his irritating movies which look somewhat worse than his actual movies. I sort of like the way the movie shows us these clearly awful movies and shows how people are still fans of them. I think it's great that people in California can be that in touch with reality. I could go on about how stupid this movie is but, like Jewel Mayhew indicated of Miriam Deering in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, I'm not prepared to give another minute to this movie. D

PS- I'd love to know if the words "full-throttle body shock" are in the press release for The Hurt Locker. Every bit of praise I see for that movie uses that phrase or something similar about an adrenaline rush. Puke. Also, I kind of liked Police, Adj. but why in the hell does every review of it refer to the climactic conversation as "exhilarating"? I can't imagine that's the word for it. Watching it when I did, I felt like it was clunky but that I appreciated idea enough to like the movie as a whole. I feel like most journalists must have IQs of 115, give or take seven points.

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