Summer Film Roundup

Safety Not Guaranteed
Dir. Colin Trevorrow, 86 min., Netflix Instant

Strongly disguised as a romcom, this film rarely does much to approach the time travel genre other than assembling a motley crew full of personal regrets. I failed to buy in to the outsider magazine intern (Aubrey Plaza) finding anything in common with the Dwight-like time traveler (Jake Johnson). In the subplot, her chauvinistic (but secretly sensitive) boss and the Indian nerd intern (that, frankly and unfairly, stands in for every dork everywhere) have a debauched mentor/protege relationship in the frat boy sense, but that story line pans out with very few hijinks and a whole lot of the type of talk you expect to hear from your drunken uncle at the family picnic. *spoiler* WTF, the time machine works at the end?? So we were to believe that this was a serious time travel piece? What a disappointing ending.

AV Club: B
Dissolve: n/a
RT: 91%
me: C-


Only God Forgives
Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, 90 min., Netflix Instant

It’s hard to comment too much on this director’s style, given that I only know him from this film (he directed the critical darling Drive [2011]), but he must have gone to the Kubrickian school when he was filming this piece: the slow panning shots with the jarring sound bursts, the monochrome lighting and color scheme (though supposedly he is colorblind, a difficulty I can somewhat identify with), the cuts to mid-range shots of actors in silent relief. The cinematography is great; if only, as A.A. Dowd points out, there were real characters in the film. Everyone is more of a description than a well-defined person. Ryan Gosling, as an emasculated, Oedipal drug dealer, barely even speaks let alone emotes. He’s more of a mannequin posing for the shot (except for one animated moment with his hooker “girlfriend”). The stoical nature of the characters and lack of facial expressions comes off like a Greek morality play (strongly suggested by the bleak title), but the film’s coldness leaves the viewer cold in turn towards the eventual resolution.

AV Club: C
Dissolve: 3/5
RT: 40%
me: C-


The Monuments Men
Dir. George Clooney, 118 min., Redbox

Clooney essentially presents us with “The Dime Store Ocean’s Eleven Crew Saves Art for the Rest of the Uncaring Idiots of the World Who Can’t Appreciate How Great it All Is.” So whereas I haven’t seen Saving Private Ryan (1998) in a few years, I could recount five or six of the main cast members defining characteristics (and maybe even the actor names as well). I just watched this film a couple of hours ago and I couldn’t tell you one damn thing about anyone but the top three stars (Clooney, Damon, and Murray), and even then I didn’t get much to recount. The dialogue apes Ocean’s and the mission, while interesting and important, would definitely be better covered by a PBS documentary than a film, as most of the action is spaced out and jumps from city to city.

Sadly, unless you have more than a passing interest in the history of that period and have taken an art history course as well (as the film provides scant discussions of art other than the Judeo-Christian lionizing of important icons), it seems more like a random race across unknown landscapes to save objects that we are told are very important, but can’t really appreciate on much more than a superficial level. One thing is clear: America has everyone’s best interest in mind and will preserve artworks from not only our own destructive impulses, but those of everyone else who can’t comprehend the magnificence of art. That may have been true, but the film strongly paints our country as the “last best hope for man on earth.”.

AV Club: C
Dissolve: 2/5
RT: 32%
me: D+

Well, that was a bunch or rotten onions. Hopefully the next crop tastes sweeter.

Movie Roundup: Late June, Early July

I have finally finished up with my qualifying exam paper, and I am only now starting to catch up with everything else going on in my life to start writing about films again. For my 51st blog entry, here is a post with some of the films I’ve seen recently.

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (2011), Dir. John Schultz, 91 min., in theaters

In the tradition of manic pixie dream girls, Aunt Opal (Heather Graham) arrives to whimsically entertain and uplift our protagonist, the sulky Judy Moody (Jordana Beatty), after her summer plans are ruined by vacationing friends and parents. It may surprise you, but I did not voluntarily elect to see this film; Nicole had to watch this as part of her research for a conference paper she presented a few weeks ago. I haven’t seen many films made for children in the last fifteen years or so, but this film is certainly not a gateway back to that genre. Fun is quantified and hyper-fetishized (Judy is obsessed with scoring “thrill points” by accomplishing “uber-rare” dares) which I would expect of children growing up in this era, yet child characters in the film rarely use computers or mobile phones (perhaps they are too young??) and live in a 50’s style suburban dream world, with parents and friends who look like they stepped off the set of Leave it to Beaver with flip hairdo’s and round glasses (one of Judy’s friends is practically Alfalfa from The Little Rascals). The whole thing looks like a middle-aged woman’s view of childhood on crack. Also, the dialogue, whether it comes from a children’s book or not, is atrocious–a sample:

“We can beautify the world with our amazing art”

“Aunt Opal says when all else fails, dance”

“Let’s go on Google! Let’s Google fun!”

That is just terrible. I went home and watched The Goonies the same night, and noticed that it’s not much better, but I will defend that film over Judy Moody for the intangibles that make that film a classic, a status that I predict this film will never achieve. For the ‘rents, if N and I could sit thought it without hanging ourselves, you can probably survive just fine.


Collateral Damage (2002), Dir. Andrew Davis, 108 min., Netflix (disc)

The appeal for this film is that I have seen pretty much every other Arnold Schwarzenegger film every made, except this one (not very a very strong rationale, but it’s also summer). Schwarzenegger had made several pieces of garbage-iola in the run up to this film (Jingle All the Way, The 6th Day, End of Days, etc.), but this really is the prize pig of the bunch. The plot trajectory is basically the same as Commando (1985), except that instead of being a kick-ass, special-forces, black-ops killing machine, Schwarzenegger plays a fire fighter. Don’t get me wrong, I respect a man or woman who can rush into a burning building, drag out a half dead victim, and then resuscitate said victim; however, I don’t necessarily want to see that person take on a Colombian drug syndicate and lose, repeatedly, without firing a gun or beating anyone up. To credit the writers’ attempts at trying something new for AS, they do attempt several ways of integrating his knowledge of firefighting and explosives investigation into the means by which he disposes of the baddies, but all for naught. To wit, the final scene involves AS disposing of someone with his superior fireman knowledge and a fire axe, and the fire axe does not cleave any of the baddies–it is merely your standard chopping utensil and not a close-quarters combat weapon…even Backdraft has that. Also, in the ultimate sin of an AS movie, there were no good one liners.


Other films I bumped into:

Khwaam jam sun… Tae rak chan yao (en: Best of Times) (2009), Dir. Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, 117 min., at the Chicago International Film Festival Free Summer Screening, Thai with English Subtitles

A humorous and pleasant romantic comedy which builds on many universal themes of longing and loss while interweaving them with Thai culture and beautiful shots of the Bangkok and Thai country landscapes. The first half of the film follows Keng (Arak Amornsupasiri) as he begrudgingly falls again for his lost first love, Fai (Yarinda Bunnag), who dated, wed, and subsequently divorced his secondary school best friend. The concurrent subplot consists of two elderly people courting and dealing with the constraints of Thai culture and their own infirmities, whom chance brings together with the younger couple. The delightful and equally bawdy humor melts away in the last third of the film and is replaced by (at times) a sappy, though well conceived storyline whose main detraction is the overly sweeping melodies that accompany the equally sweeping shots; they compound to create a sense of somewhat unearned sentimentality. That weak finish is incapable of taking away from the otherwise well written, shot, and acted film. It’s showing again this Saturday at 2p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center next to Millenium Park, and I would recommend checking it out, especially since it is totally free and open to the public. As a side note, there are a lot of great films coming up on the free summer screening schedule.


Films in my Netflix queue that I plan on reviewing:

The Room (2003): At the request of an old friend, I am going to watch what has been called out on Wikipedia as one of the worst films ever made. We’ll see how this baby compares to Battlefield Earth, which is also on the Wikipedia worst films list and which I will not watch again for any reason, ever.

Rear Window (1954): Nicole and I had planned to watch more Hitchcock films since our midnight screening of Frenzy at the Music Box last December. It should wash out the bad taste of some of the films I have seen recently.

That’s all for now. Try to do better about writing the next time.