Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Netflix Quick Picks - Round Eight

It's been quite a while since Round Seven, so without further ado the movies I watched so you don't have to:

1. Idiocracy - You know, the title really kind of says it all. Some critic wrote about this being an underrated gem. I can't remember who, but that's good for him because if I do I'll hunt him down and kick him. This movie was such a waste of time that even typing about how much a waste of time it was is a waste of time. SKIP IT!

2. Once - Oh, the haters are gonna come after me now but I didn't really like this indie favorite. Even the Oscar winning song Falling Slowly left me underwhelmed:

Take this sinking boat and point it home
We've still got time
Raise your hopeful voice you have a choice
You've made it now

What the fuck does that MEAN?!!! The tune is pretty, but pretty much all of the songs are lyrical disasters and the alleged conceit of the film is that the music arcs the journey of the protagonists. Um, NOT! Still I did appreciate the filmmakers giving the story a more realistic instead of trite happy ending. Overall I have to say, Skip it.

3. Ira & Abby - Loved Jennifer Westfeldt in Kissing Jessica Stein which she co-wrote and co-starred with Heather Juergensen. In Ira & Abby Westfeldt ditches the neurotically perfectionist Jessica character for free-spirited, whimsical Abby and it really doesn't work. Playing the part of the uptight neurotic this time around is Chris Messina and he nails it. Unfortunately I couldn't figure out if the movie was a treatise on marriage and relationships, therapy and analysis or neurotics and the girls that love them. Lots of great cameos: Robert Klein, Judith Light, Fred Willard, Jason Alexander and Darrell Hammond but ultimately this movie was a dog. Chasing its tail. And going nowhere.

Skip it.

4. In the Valley of Elah - A war film about the horrifying aftershock type effects of war. Tommy Lee Jones essentially plays the same world weary and worn character he did in No Country for Old Men and In the Valley of Elah basically portrays the same theme. It's about the struggle of an honorable man to come to grips with an increasingly chaotic world. Tommy Lee can do no wrong in my book (unless of course he signs up for Men in Black III...) so RENT IT!

5. Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - I can't even begin to say how entranced by this book I was as a child. The film version, however, while staying fairly true to the book sucks out most of the charm. New Zealand as Narnia? I always imagined it more quaint and picturesque--like a classic line drawing illustration in a book of fairy tales. I love James McAvoy but his Mr. Tumnus just made me think he looked cold. Couldn't they have given him a waistcoat? It was disturbing seeing him walking around in the snow half naked...And what was up with that hideous dress Tilda Swinton was wearing? It was worse than the horrible Hefty bag she wore to last years Oscars! Skip it and read the book instead...

6. Music Within - This story of the man who helped create of the Americans with Disabilities Act was in theaters for all of five minutes last fall. Ron Gallagher plays Richard Pimentel, a hearing impaired veteran who makes it his mission to help veterans and the disabled find employment and to change the way Americans view those with disabilities. It was a bit uneven and I had problems with the fact the story evolves over 20-30 years and yet the characters don't appear to age. Hello? Make-up anyone? It's a small quibble for what is worthwhile viewing. Rent it.

7. Rocket Science - Filled with weird, quirky characters and yet never cloying or overdone. Much more engaging and heartfelt than the highly overrated Juno. "It's one of those two, love or revenge, I'm not really sure which one. But it's one of those two that made me throw a cello through somebody's window, so you figure it out." RENT IT!

8. Better Luck Tomorrow - Slow. Boring. Pointless. The story of overachieving Asian kids who get their kicks as they increasingly engage in more and more illicit activities lacks foundation, motivation or any sort of appeal. If you want a good kids gone wrong tale, rent the underrated Alpha Dog. If you want insight into Asian-American cultural issues, rent The Joy Luck Club. Perhaps someone will make a decent movie that combines both themes. This isn't it. Skip it!

9. Joseph Campbell: The Power of Myth - This 2 DVD set is broken into six one hour interviews with Bill Moyer. I couldn't get past the second interview--I kept falling asleep! Great for insomniacs, not so good for those who want more than your basic, boring lecture. I did read Campbell's book (The Power of Myth), however, and found it much more engrossing. Life altering, in fact. So skip the DVD and read the book!

10. Weird Science - I was confused as to, between Real Genius and Weird Science, which was the cult classic. It's not Weird Science. This is a horribly juvenile and banal movie. I did love how the mid 80s computer technology was portrayed. Basically you were dealing with monochrome CRTs and "Pong" back then. Yet the computer graphics on a high school geek's computer would make a special effects programmer weep with joy today. So funny how little we understood about technology back then that it looked even plausible due to our ignorance. But I'm giving this stupid movie way too much credit. Skip it.

11. Real Genius - THIS was the cult classic and after viewing it I have one question:


Val Kilmer frantically races around as a genius slacker. Frantic slacker--how's that for an oxymoron? And moronic is exactly what this movie is. Oh, it has a couple of moments: the running gag where students in a math lecture increasing dissipate replaced with recorders until the lecture hall is filled with recorders--and a recording of the professor giving the lecture is quite smart and, while the set-up of the giant JiffyPop finale was lame, the payoff was pretty ingenious. But in a movie manically trying to be Animal House meets Revenge of the Nerds, there's very little ingenuity to spare. Skip it!

12. From Hell - I'm really into Johnny Depp these days but the stinker From Hell really ought to have stayed there. Depp sleepwalks through his role as a Scotland Yard Inspector investigating the Ripper murders and to be fair, he does portray an opium addict in the film. But it's still a lackluster performance and a strangely dull and predictable film given the salacious subject matter. At one point in the movie, Depp's character is having a conversation with a commanding officer and I know the next words out of his mouth will be, "With all due respect, sir..." And the next words out of his mouth? "With all due respect, sir..." There's no suspense--you know exactly who the next victim will be (I'm going out now to walk around in the London back alleys all alone now!!!) and even though there's an attempt to keep you guessing as to the killer's identity, there's a fairly obvious tip-off. I give the Hughes Brothers some credit for some unique stylistic choices, but they've made a slasher movie with no thrills or chills. Skip it.

13. Paths of Glory - Early Kubrick film recommended by my friend Dave. It was a decent telling of a story of military power and misuse thereof. I thought some of the shots and blocking odd given Kubrick's much vaunted visual sensibilities: the opening scene basically has two characters walking in a circle inside a French palace. I gave it a solid three (out of five) stars. If you like Kirk (Douglas) and Kubrick, rent it. Otherwise you're not missing much by skipping it.

14. Starter for 10 - This fairly innocuous but charming romantic comedy is thoroughly predictable. Hero meets two women: one smart and brunette, the other vapid and blonde. We know he will initially fall for the wrong one and ultimately end up with the right one (see Some Kind of Wonderful and others of that ilk...). He comes home for Christmas and walks in on his mum in the tub with a guy. Yeah, saw that coming too...He visits wrong woman and has an encounter with her naked parents in the kitchen (it sounds outlandish but trust me, it's so predictable...). He rushes to tell wrong woman of his love for her and finds she's hooked up with his best friend (Quelle surprise!!!). And yet, if just for the many diverse charms of James McAvoy and the soundtrack of killer 80s tunes, you should RENT IT!

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