Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Cinematic Fiction/Double Feature

If this series of movies has a theme, it's pairs! See if you can spot them all. (Hint: One movie is part of two pairs.)

Predator 2: An io9 post convinced me to check this out after Predator, but I forgot that the way to enjoy the movie is to pretend Predator never existed. As Bernardin points out, the movie is structured as a mystery, with Danny Glover investigating what could possibly be killing all these various gang members—while dealing with a meddling government agent played by Gary Busey. So what you get for the first two-thirds of the movie is a bizarre cop thriller that just happens to have an alien bounty hunter running around with a host of cool weapons. For some reason, the nominal plot isn't as engaging as it is in the first movie, even though in that movie too, we as the audience know that the Predator is out there. The problem is that the first movie is a horror movie, so that creates suspense. Because this movie is not, it just creates impatience. The last third, however, is basically Danny Glover vs. the Predator, and it's pretty cool. Plus, Adam Baldwin! B

Jennifer's Body: This movie was marketed as a horror movie with Diablo Cody's dialogue and Megan Fox's hotness, but, as is so often the case, the marketing misrepresented the movie entirely. Frankly, Diablo Cody's "cool" dialogue is the weakest element of the movie, and it almost feels out of place because it pops up only intermittently. The actual story, however, is good: it's a movie about the relationship between two best friends, a nerdy girl and a hot cheerleader, and how it changes when the latter is possessed by a demon. Which is clearly a metaphor for that period when long-time BFFs hit that point in high school where one realizes that perhaps you've outgrown the friendship. Mixed in with that is the metaphor of the hot girl who craves the attention of boys (in real life, she doesn't usually eat them). It's not so much a horror movie as a teen drama with horror elements, but the marketing department couldn't sell that. They also put all the focus on Megan Fox when the main character is actually Amanda Seyfried, who is great. The movie is dark and moody and interesting. If the poor box office and middling critical reception turned you off this movie, I am here to say you should check it out. B+

Teeth: Let's follow that up with another feminist horror-comedy, shall we? Dawn O'Keefe is an abstinent teenager who strongly endorses the promise ring and fears having impure thoughts. It's probably for the best, as she discovers she has vagina dentata. And so we begin a slightly gory take on female sexual awakening, as Dawn tries to understand what is going on with her body...and how she can use it to her advantage. It's also an indictment of the fucked-up pressures and expectations put on teenage girls; Dawn's condition is a curse that distresses her. Like Jennifer's Body, it's not so much a horror movie as a teen drama with horror elements. The comedy works better here, though, both the satire of the abstinence movement and the silliness of a penis-biting vagina. There are a handful of gory post-bite shots and several severed penises, as a warning, but it's pretty clear when you need to close your eyes. (Whenever a man shows up, because nearly every man in this movie is an asshole. Dawn's vagina needs victims, after all.) Overall, the movie is what it is, and it follows a fairly predictable progression, but it does it well. B/B+

The Informant!: Matt Damon plays an intelligent but dopey informant in this corporate-thriller-turned-comic-romp by Steven Soderbergh. This movie, based on a true story, could have been the tense tale of a man risking his career as a whistleblower, gathering evidence over years as he betrays his friends and colleagues. Instead, Soderbergh scores the entire movie with cheesy, bouncy music, ho ho, look at the scale of this global conspiracy! Matt Damon is hilarious, especially in his narration, because he never shuts up. He just says the most ridiculous things, so matter-of-factly, because is so utterly naive. It's like, here is the point, and there he is, way over there. So while you have Matt Damon being super-amusing without (the character) realizing it, you have funny guys like Joel McHale and Tony Hale playing very straight. It's almost as if Matt Damon's character has stumbled into a serious corporate thriller. The way Soderbergh plays with tone is very interesting, especially given the latter half of the film. Also: Scott Bakula! B+

Timecrimes: Héctor is having a strange day. First, he gets a weird phone call. Then he has an odd encounter with a beautiful girl and a masked man. And then he inadvertently steps into a time machine and goes back about an hour and a half. It's time for TIME TRAVEL MAYHEM, ladies and gentlemen. Although the first half of the movie is surprisingly dull for a time travel movie because, well, we've seen time travel movies and we know how they go. We understand causality loops, and we can pretty much see where it's all going. Thankfully, complications ensue, and the story gets more interesting. It's not as mindbending as Primer, though. It's a pretty solid time travel thriller, if fairly conventional and predictable. B/B+

Romeo + Juliet: I tried to watch Baz Luhrmann's IN YOUR FACE Shakespeare adaptation years ago but fell asleep because I was either tired or bored. This time, I also decided to go to sleep halfway through, but I finished it. I really wanted to like this movie. Setting the play in modern day but not changing the language at all is a fun idea, and for the first five minutes, it seems pretty badass. But then it's a little too IN YOUR FACE. And the strict adherence to Shakespearean dialogue begins to feel too out of place, especially when only a handful of the actors can really sell it. Leonardo DiCaprio is a great actor, but listening to him spout Shakespeare is almost painful at times. Claire Danes fares better, thankfully. I forgot how stupid this play is, though. Romeo and Juliet are idiots, holy crap. Good Christ, get over yourselves and your bullshit love. There are elements I did like and some very effective moments and clever adaptations (like turning the balcony scene from a dialogue into two monologues), but all in all, it's an interesting but failed experiment. B

Shutter Island: Leonardo DiCaprio plays a man haunted by his dead wife in a movie rife with dreams, but this isn't Inception. Here, he's a U.S. Marshal investigating the escape of a mental patient from the titular island. No one can figure out how she even got out of her cell. Meanwhile, he's having freaky dreams about his dead wife and flashbacks to his time in WWII (the movie takes place in 1954). We learn there's more to his presence there than just the case, and as he digs deeper and deeper into the mental institution, things get creepier. When he finally discovers what's going on, it's a doozy. Shutter Island hits the right "creepy thriller in a mental institution" notes, and Scorsese was able to score some stellar actors for key one-scene characters, and the musical score is impressively culled together from modern classical music yet still fitting. But the main character's trauma feels too constructed and artificial, and the final act threatens to veer into ridiculousness. Perhaps it's more palatable in the novel, but it's to Scorsese's credit that he does keep the movie from going off the rails at the end. B/B+

The Invention of Lying: Imagine a world where no one lies. Everyone always speaks the truth. Even fiction doesn't exist. Put aside the fact that this is unimaginable because if humans couldn't lie, history would have gone down very different paths. The first half hour of this movie is basically an extended sketch, and it's very amusing, even though it equates an inability to lie with oversharing. I had to rationalize the oversharing as replacing small talk most of the time, but in some cases, it still didn't quite make sense. In any case, Ricky Gervais suddenly invents lying, and he's the only person who can do it. It's a revolutionary concept, and it's really rather interesting to see him and the other characters react to it. For instance, in a world where there are no lies, there isn't even a word for truth. There's no need for it. As we watch him explore his new power, we see the usefulness and effectiveness of the small lies. And then he inadvertently releases a Big Lie into the world. And in this world, lies are memes because everyone is so gullible (they don't understand untruth). Also, there's a romantic comedy with Jennifer Garner in there. The movie got mixed reviews that tended toward the negative, so I was prepared to be disappointed, but I really liked it. I thought it was funny and clever and sweet—Ricky Gervais isn't his usual ass-y self—and it's full of great cameos. It may have bombed at the box office, but I recommend you watch it. And that's no lie. B+/A-

Fast and Furious: The movie starts out fast and furious with a whole lot of ridiculous car stunts, but then it gets sort of boring as we establish the plot and try to have character development and stuff. It's certainly nice to have the "original parts" back, with Vin Diesel doing his Diesel-y thing and Jordana Brewster being all Brewster-y. In this outing, Vin Diesel and Paul Walker are both going after the same drug lord, for personal and professional reasons, respectively. There is a mild sense of competition and conflict, but...not really. Basically, they drive cars really fast and sometimes do crazy things and there are spectacular crashes and possibly explosions. You know what you're getting into with these movies, okay? It's not as good as the first or third (seriously, Tokyo Drift is worth watching just for Sung Kang, who has a cameo in this one and will apparently be in the fifth), but it's easily better than the second. I wish it were better, really, but it doesn't have a lot of sequel punch to it. Regardless, it's fun times. B/B+

Point Break: Almost two decades before Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for The Hurt Locker, she made a surfing action movie! All I really knew about this movie was that The Fast and Furious was basically Point Break with cars, so I wasn't expecting much. But I got more than I was expecting! Keanu Reeves is the awesomely named Johnny Utah, an FBI agent attempting to infiltrate a pack of surfers suspected to be a group of bank robbers. One of these surfers is Patrick Swayze, and, you guys, I don't think I realized that he's actually a really good actor! He totally sells his hippy-dippy adrenaline-junkie ways. Utah's investigation, even though we know where it's going to lead, is fun to follow, as is his crash course in surfing. Compared to The Fast and Furious, however, the plot is much more interesting. Plus, you get action-packed surfing, skydiving, and chase scenes! And Gary Busey and John C. McGinley. Also, Keanu Reeves being punched out by a naked woman. It's too bad there was no 2 Point 2 Break. B+/A-

Gloomy Sunday: In preparation for my trip to Budapest, I decided to watch some movies set in Budapest. This one is set in the 1930s, but I'm sure the Danube is still there. A restaurant owner and the house pianist are both in love with the beautiful waitress, but it's a love triangle that doesn't involve everyone being dicks to each other. At least not overtly. The pianist composes a song in honor of her, "Gloomy Sunday," which is so lovely and beautiful it appears to triggers a rash of suicides (this plot element is actually based on a real urban legend about the song). Gloomy Sunday is kind of two movies in one: the first half concerns the creation and reception of the song, and the second half deals with the Nazi occupation of Hungary and how it affects the relationships between the main characters. Soon tragedy is heaped upon tragedy, and I know a movie called Gloomy Sunday isn't going to be a comedy, but really. The characters spend a lot of time pondering the message of the song, and I similarly wondered what the movie was trying to say. Also, why everyone was in love with this waitress, who was a lovely woman but didn't seem to have a life of her own outside of the men who loved her. It's a well made film with good performances, but I was ready to give it a middling grade until the rather awesome payoff in the frame story—the movie is a flashback—forced me to bump it up a notch. B/B+

Kontroll: This movie, the first film by the director of Predators, is set entirely in the Budapest Metro. Our Hero leads a crew of ticket inspectors who, you know, inspect tickets. They're a ragtag group of weirdo misfits. About half an hour in, I started to lose interest because it became clear that this movie had no actual narrative and was just about ticket inspectors encountering unruly passengers and weird shit. Like a hooded figure pushing people into trains incoming trains. And a cute girl in a bear suit. Wait, maybe they're supposed to represent Good and Evil or something, I don't know. Some of the threads start to come together in the end, but they're not so much threads as pieces of string. I only started to give a shit about the main character halfway through the movie. There are a handful of nice scenes, but I mostly didn't feel like paying attention to anything. B-/B

Strange Days: I saw this movie years ago but wanted to revisit it after having experienced more of the Kathryn Bigelow oeuvre, which I now realize resembles the Danny Boyle oeuvre, in that both directors have a penchant for genre-hopping. Bigelow's trademark seems to be visceral, intense action sequences, and here she sticks them in a sci-fi story by James Cameron. It's the eve of the new millennium, and change is in the air. Ralph Fiennes peddles a black-market technology that allows you to virtually experience someone else's recorded experiences—or even your own, if Juliette Lewis happens to have dumped you. The first-person POV shots are surprisingly not cheesy and are very effective. Fiennes soon finds himself caught up in a corrupt cop conspiracy, and he drags Angela Bassett into it. Fiennes and Bassett are a great team, especially because she's usually the one saving him. So that's always fun. It's sci-fi with a social conscience and a great soundtrack, and, despite being almost two-and-a-half hours long, it's never boring. A-

Barcelona: After Budapest, I'm going to Barcelona, so what better movie to watch than...Barcelona? This was my first Whit Stillman movie, and it reminded me a little of Woody Allen's films with its sly, understated sense of humor and conversational scenes. Ted, a Chicago salesman living in Barcelona, is visited by Fred, his naval officer cousin. They encounter and discuss a lot of anti-Americanism, but the conversations are so casual and witty that it doesn't feel like a Political Movie. They also encounter and discuss Spanish women, one of whom is played by Mira Sorvino (remember her?). While the majority of the movie is Ted and Fred bickering (Ted's sort of a wet blanket, and Fred's kind of a jerk), their romantic relationships move forward and give the movie a sense of plot. The story takes a sharp turn in the third act that could have cast a pall over the rest of the movie, but it somehow comes out of it okay, thanks to a light touch. It's a very funny, enjoyable film with endearing characters. Fred may be a jerk, but he's a funny jerk. I have totally had that angst about shaving in the right direction. Ted may be a wet blanket, but he's a funny wet blanket. I have never had such a discussion of ant politics. B+/A-

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Barcelona is a place for romance, it seems. Here, two American women encounter a sexy Spanish artist (and later his crazy Spanish ex-wife). Vicky is engaged and inhibited, but Cristina is unattached and more of a free spirit. Juan Antonio appears to be a creepy Lothario at first, but he's surprisingly sincere and thoughtful. The characters in this movie are so fascinating and complex, I wanted to know more about them. Part of that comes from the narration, which makes the movie seem like a short story or novella, where so much more could be written about the inner lives of these people. And yet, I also loved the look of the film. I am, however, slightly miffed on Rebecca Hall's behalf. Rebecca Hall plays the titular Vicky, and I couldn't take my eyes off her, but all the attention went to Penélope Cruz, who doesn't show up till halfway through the movie and basically acts crazy all the time. Even Scarlet Johansson, who was also really good, got overshadowed. But I didn't even realize the movie wasn't all about Scarlet and Penélope until it began. Anyway. I've rarely met a Woody Allen film I didn't like, and this is one of the good ones. B+/A-

Perfect Blue: After the unexpected death of Satoshi Kon, I moved up my plans to check out his work, starting with this, his first film, which is the animated lovechild of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. Mima is a pop idol who leaves the pop group CHAM! to pursue a career in acting. She gets a gig on a crime drama called Double Bind, a sexually charged murder mystery that will definitely change her image. That doesn't sit well with some of her fans, though, especially one dangerously obsessed stalker. Mima begins receiving threatening messages, and soon, she's haunted by her past self, who believes her to be tarnishing the reputation of the "real" Mima. As if that weren't enough, she seems to be at the center of a murder mystery herself. Art imitates life and life imitates art and reality and fantasy start to blend together, and the whole thing is brilliantly edited so that you're kept off-balance and unsure what's real and what's not, but it doesn't feel like you're being tricked either. It's a psychological thriller with a healthy dose of identity issues, and while I could see how it could be done as a live-action film (and it was, later), animation allows for the hallucinatory imagery to blend in enough with the "real world" that it doesn't look cheesy. The soundtrack also adds a lot and is effectively creepy and unnerving. The denouement concludes abruptly, but the preceding climactic sequence is marvelous. A-

Paprika: Satoshi Kon's last completed film bears some similarity to Inception, in that both films are about people using machines to enter dreams, but they're very different movies. Here, the technology is used for psychotherapy by Dr. Chiba, whose alter-ego Paprika interacts with the subjects in their dreams to understand what troubles them. When the machine is stolen, however, things begin to go haywire, as the machine allows you to project dreams into other people's minds. As Chiba and Paprika and others try to catch the culprit, they must navigate the ever-changing dreamworld, and the imagination and creativity at work here create imagery like nothing you've seen before. This is a movie I wish I had seen on the big screen because it's so pretty on my TV but it clearly wants to be so much bigger and more impressive. Like in Perfect Blue, Kon uses brilliant editing to merge reality and fantasy, but he also manipulates the dreamworld in ways that seem natural, logical, and rooted in character rather than being weird for the sake of being weird. He clearly understands the power of animation as a medium. The general story isn't as compelling as Perfect Blue, but the film looks so fucking good (especially in comparison to Perfect Blue's flat, old-school animation style), I didn't mind that I didn't quite understand it all. A-

I am planning on some lighter fare for the next batch. In addition to some heavier fare.
Tags: making the grade, movies, pimpings

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  • Double, Double, Netflix and Trouble

    I said I'd clear out my Netflix and DVR, and I did indeed make a small dent in them! And then added more. American Fable: Writer-director Anne…

  • Fleabag? More Like T-Bag!

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