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.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)

Summit Entertainment, 124 min., Dir. David Slade

First of all, let me address all of the “I’m too cool to see this film” people out there. One, you probably were bawling watching Toy Story 3 or Up, so don’t try to pretend that you only watch high art, “grown up films.” Two, get out there and live a little; go see a movie that you wouldn’t normally see, if nothing else just to bag on it or, maybe enjoy it. Three, if you have a girlfriend/wife who wants to see this film and your going to be a recalcitrant crybaby about seeing it, just man up already. It’s not going to be the best two hours of film you’ve ever seen, but it can’t be worse than watching the Cubs get jacked up again or some piece of s*&t sitcom.

That being said, this is my third Twilight movie, and I still don’t like them any more than I used to (sorry). I think (and have had confirmed by fans) that these films have more of a payoff for readers of the books than for the average person who walks in off the street expecting to know what’s going on. There is little to no effort made to catch up anyone on what happened in the last two films (the later of which I barely remember), and I suppose that’s a product of internet/home viewing culture. Makers of the movie just expect that if you’re going to see part three of a six part series that you will have the requisite knowledge to understand it. If you ask me, it wouldn’t hurt serious watchers to sit through thirty seconds of recap ala Star Wars style scrolling text (or maybe a voice over here and there).

In any case, just like Twilight part two, whatever that was called, I was completely lost. There are, by my count, six or seven vampires and six or seven “shape shifters” (I learned they are not werewolves from listening to AV Talk). They all have back stories, only a few of which were explained via flashbacks during the film. Characters exchange poignant glances, and I suppose we’re expected to know why, but I sure as hell didn’t. There are more examples of the bewilderment that a non-book reader will experience, but I’ll omit them and say that you should not expect to fully understand how or why ancillary characters behave the way they do.

The love interest sequence in this film is essentially two stalkers competing over the target of their obsession, and (without spoiling anything) having to coexist so that said target is not obliterated by an army of obsessive stalkers who want her dead, or something like that. The plot is really secondary in this film. I got the repeated notion that if you’re watching the film, it’s not to be impressed by storyline or dialogue, both of which are lacking and dimwitted. The fact that there are vampires and “shape shifters” is also secondary, as they could really be any characters as far as I’m concerned (extraterrestrials and extraterrestrial fighters, cult members and papal soldiers, Cubs fans and Sox fans, etc.). If this ambiguity is intentional, I’ve yet to discover the allegorical relationship to politics or religion that is concealed within the narrative. The stakes essentially come down to which side will the protagonist end up on, something book readers already know and something I frankly don’t care about.

The on-screen characters do little to make us care about their fate. The acting from all parties involved is wooden, especially from Kristen Stewart (Bella). She mumbles her way through yet another movie, and her flashes of anger are about as intense as the anger expressed after dropping one’s keys down a storm drain. The chastity sequences are something else. I’m not sure where this wave of abstinence heavy tween entertainment came from, but it is definitely entertaining. The reason they don’t have sex in this film is because Edward is “from a different time.” Really?? Are you that secluded that for 150 years you haven’t noticed a change in cultural values, especially after attending one high school after another for that entire time?? He definitely watched some James Dean movies, since his pompadour and clothing seem to mimic that style in the first film.

On a final note, I would like to point out that these are the stupidest immortal people I have ever seen portrayed on screen. Most vampires become cultural paragons, masters of music, art, literature, or science. These people act the way they look. Dr. Cullen, who learned to be a doctor hundreds of years ago, doesn’t seem too concerned with advancing medial arts and only really has that talent to justify having someone bandage up Bella after one injury or another. All of the rest just seem content to look cool and drink animal blood, occasionally playing a really stupid game of baseball (that ridiculousness alone warrants a viewing of the first film). The filmmakers at lest felt that it would be wise to give some of these characters a reason for existing this time around, however slim those reasons might be. I don’t feel like this film enterprise needs to be as trivial and closely targeted, as vampire films have often found a way into a wider audience base. The exclusivity of having a single audience might appeal to the target market better, I suppose. I myself found little to like in this film.

2/10: I’d love to be one of those supporting characters who just sits there and says nothing then takes home a big, fat check

In case you’re wondering, here’s how I rate the other two films:

Twilight: 4/10

As I said above, the hilarity of some of the sequences is just great. The acting is terrible, but if you like vampire films you could find something enjoyable about this film. At least the notion of a war between vampires and Native Americans is kind of cool, though never really developed.

Twilight Part Two (New moon??): 1/10

Not worth watching at all. You can probably read the synopsis and fill in the rest. The film introduces the idea of the “Voltari” (I don’t even care to look up the correct spelling) which is a Rome-based vampire council, that has yet to do anything cool but has Dakota Fanning as a member (awesome). The film is utterly forgettable, as it takes over the middle story mentality of just killing time until the conclusion even though it is only the second entry.