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This week I found something new to obsess over: a little movie called Eagle vs Shark. I wasn’t feeling well one night, and Donovan went and got a movie from the video store and some treats for me.
Now, you have to be careful about movies when you’re sick. Once when I had the flu, I decided to watch Moulin Rouge. Oh boy, not a good idea what with all those flying crane shots and crazy makeup and actors getting right up in the camera. Freaking nauseating. So when I read the back cover for the DVD, and it said “Eagle vs Shark is the tale of two socially awkward misfits and the strange ways they try to find love; through revenge on high-school bullies, burgers, and video games,” I thought, oh geez, is this going to be all dark and disturbing? The last thing I need to remember what an ass I was in high school.
But apparently it was up for the big awards at Sundance, so we gave it a go. From the very beginning, it reminded me a lot of Napoleon Dynamite in terms of style and pacing. Reading the critics on Flixster (via Facebook) and the roundup on Rotten Tomatoes, it seems a lot of people are reminded of Napoleon Dynamite, producing plenty of back and forth on which is the better movie.
Both movies have plenty of plot similarities: obnoxious anti-heroes who make art in the lead role (Jarrod, Napoleon), quirky families (including the quirk of selling stuff), rural, kinda desolated settings, and heroines who try to love the idiot anyway (Lily, the girl with the glamour shots). There’s even a nerdy sidekick (Mason, Pedro). But is the fact that the two have similarities in style necessarily bad? Hell, I’d love to see more movies that mine the quirks of everyday people for laughs, rather than the fart-jokes-and-boobies school that seems to rule American comedy. It’s easy to see where Taika Waititi drew inspiration from for Eagle vs Shark (Napoleon Dynamite came out in 2004; Eagle vs Shark in 2007), but it’s pretty insulting to say that he simply set out to make the New Zealand version of the first film. And if anything, he improved on the elements of quirky comedy – the supporting characters in Eagle vs Shark are played with some heart and sympathy, not just for laughs.
But let’s get to the meat of it: the nerdy heros and heroines. The other theme of criticism centers around the fact that Jarrod, the surly, mulletheaded object of Lily’s affection, is a geek who is not only utterly without social skills but at times, treats her incredibly badly. Furthermore, she’s a “doormat” who just takes it. The critics point to the fact that she endures his aggressively anti-social behaviour to win him, but why is he worth the winning? Maybe it’s because his faults – his complete lack of self-awareness, his laughable fighting skills, his clumsy attempts at romance “Hey, pretty good sex last night” – make him utterly fascinating. Jarrod fucking lodges himself in your brain and won’t get out.
And on another note, since when are drop-dead good looks, good social skills and good self-esteem (or accurate self-concept) prerequisites for love? If that were the case, most of us would be walking around lonely. While it’s never really explained why Lily develops such a crush on Jarrod (he’s a regular customer at the burger joint where she works) on his outward looks and manners alone, she does find something tender inside of him. “I’m a loser, aren’t I?” he says, to which she replies “It doesn’t matter.” And isn’t that what we all want, to be found out and accepted anyway? Jarrod isn’t deliberately malicious, he’s just clueless. Lily is a little passive, but she’s kind and caring. Does being mean or weak make us unworthy of love?
Of course not. In most movies, the nerd needs to have a makeover (remember the “red dress” scene in She’s All That?), or be visibly softened up at least (Pretty in Pink?), before they can find love. Here, there is just a subtle shift towards maturity and a kind gesture to indicate the beginning of true love.
The other week, I went to see Stranger than Fiction which I enjoyed very much. It is the odd story of a man (Will Ferrell) who first discovers that his life is being narrated by an author (Emma Thompson) and then discovers that she plans to kill him off at the end of her story. Will Ferrell is so lovely in it, and I’m not just saying that because of my geek-crush on him. It was a quirky comedy, sort of quiet.
But the previews – good god, what a lot of downers! The worst-looking trailer was for Children of Men, your standard dystopic vision of the post-apocalyptic future: grey people, skies, and cities, armed guards herding the masses through barbed wire mazes, and a mean and miserable totalitarian dictatorship. The movie, set to open Christmas Day, is about a world in which women have been unable to reproduce for the last 18 years and no one knows exactly why. Everyone is miserable without children since there’s no future to look forward to. And then the main guy, played by Clive Owen, finds out about a woman who has somehow managed to get very, very pregnant. Guess where they find her? In a barn. Full of dairy cows. Hooked up to milking machines. Talk about pregnant – with symbolism. Bah.
Maybe it’s the “No Children, No Hope” thing that’s gotten to me about this particular film. I don’t like dystopic films in general: Sin City, Aeon Flux, V for Vendetta come to mind. (I can’t even stomach those alternate-present scenarios in movies like Back to the Future II and It’s A Wonderful Life.) In an interview with Radar Online, Voluntary Human Extinction Movement founder Les U. Knight opines that fewer people having children would actually prevent the future chaos that Children of Men depicts:
If viewers find it plausible, it’ll show how irrationally human-centered we are. Besides, we’re already living in a dystopia, but we don’t want to admit it. Voluntary human extinction would prevent the dystopia of that science-fiction drama, not bring it about. Phasing ourselves out would actually enable us to progress toward a peaceful coexistence with others.
Knight’s is an extreme view to be sure. But he does bring up an interesting point about dystopia: are we already living in it? Dystopic fantasies seem to be based on the idea that all things have already gotten so bad that they can’t be fixed, and that everything is just going to get worse. This is called cynicism and it’s a comfortable view and an easy escape. Imagine everything turning to shit and sooner or later it will. Then cynics will predictably say, “Well, that’s what I said would happen.”
In the last century, there was this belief in progress, that things were just going to get better and better. People built railroads and went to the moon. In this century, such optimism is ridiculed. Artists, writers, filmmakers who want to be taken seriously deal in darkness, not lightheartedness. In a recent article for Walrus Magazine, designer Bruce Mau describes his irritation with the pessimism among artists and designers:
The prevailing mood feels dark, negative, harrowingly pessimistic, and tending to the cynical. Bizarrely, this kind of negativity has become the vogue even in creative fields, which are traditonally committed to vision, beauty, and pleasure, to notions of utopia – to possibility, in other words. This is especially true of design. How, I wondered, had the virus of pessismism crept into the one area of art that is charged with looking forward?
Optimism is unfashionable. It invites the stock response “How can you be happy when there is so much wrong with the world?” To that question I have no real answer, only a belief that there are still beautiful things in the world. To give in to the dystopic fantasies is to assume that everything will go wrong, in the worst way possible. If we’re just going to give in, I suppose we might as well do it now and stop torturing ourselves with images of a bleak future.
It’s shockingly easy to get cynical about where the world is headed at Christmas – on one hand, we’re bombarded with crap advertising that tells us Stuff=Perfect Gift!, and on the other, news of war, bombings in the Middle East (home of Jesus), etc. Yesterday, supposedly the frenziest shopping day of the year, I was walking the streets of the downtown shopping district, and I was struck by how everyone looked absolutely miserable. Everyone except the Salvation Army kettle people who were shaking their bells and singing like they just didn’t care who knew it. The shoppers looked fucking grim.
I feel happy, and I don’t know why. Call me a reformed cynic. I refuse to believe that everything will just get worse and worse. But I don’t believe in utopia any more than dystopia – things will never be absolutely perfect. The other day, a friend described how another friend of theirs bought a plot of land and was planning to build solar panels for energy to live off once the world’s energy ran out. I said I would just keep turning off lights when I left a room.
Sometimes, I like to have a cigarrette. I would call myself a suggestible smoker; that is, if I am at the bar or restaurant and the girls say, “Let’s go outside for a smoke and chat,” I’ll more than likely tag along for a cancer stick and a head rush. If there’s a movie or TV show with a lot of smoking going on, yes, I might go and fish the emergency pack out of my dresser drawer. I will light up one, smoke it til it’s stubby, think “My fingers stink,” and most likely be done with smoking for months to come. In fact, that emergency pack of DuMaurier Lights has lasted me almost a year, and it still has five delicious tobacco treats left. Writing this is making me think about having one now.
Is there something wrong with my very very occasional habit? The other week, my friend and I went to watch Thank You for Smoking – good film, great cast, killer Rob Lowe cameo/character bit – and I commented on the urge to light up when watching people do it onscreen. “You smoke?!” Yes, I also experiment with firecrackers and kittens, read Star, and shoplift printer ink. If I only I lived in Newfoundland… I must confine the actual clubbing of baby seals to daydreams and bitch slap people who ask about my reproductive schedule instead.
I don’t smoke pot, however. I find that stating that elicits a very different question: “Why not?” or “You don’t?!” I don’t really understand how tobacco, which is legal and comes with all kinds of fun chemicals, is so shunned, while dirty disgusting smelly old joints are so revered. I’m looking for friends on Craigslist, all of whom state their chosen respondents must be “420 friendly”. I don’t care if anyone else does it; I just don’t want to ‘kay? If someone really wants to hear about it, there is a long and thrilling tale of The Night of the Joint in the Out-of-the-Way Motel that I’d just as soon spare everyone.
Why is it that smoking is horrifying and evil, and smoking pot is quasi-acceptable, if not downright cool? Either way, it’s about sucking smoke into your lungs and feeling the effects. Except that smoking gives you a nice little lift and smoking pot makes your cheeks hurt from giggling for hours on end. It’s all bad for you; that’s why it’s called a vice. Vices are what your mothers warned you against while fastidiously hiding their own bad habits. Some vices are just more acceptable than others, and at this time, in this city, I am sick of being told that I am uptight because I’m less than “420 friendly” and that I’m bad because I might have a cigarette once in a great while. One smells up the sidewalks of the city; the other makes for unsightly litter.
Perhaps a game of kickball would settle once and for all who are the worst smokers – the pot hippies or the tobacco trailer-trash. The losers would have to buy the drinks and then everyone would gather in the parking lot for a smoke-in. The differences settled, we could all live in peace with our vices at last.
Innocently going through my Sitemeter stats – I love seeing what Google searches bring people into this pink corral – I was heartened to learn that someone else has a crush on Steve Buscemi too! Except she’s actually seen the man in person. So jealous.
This Seven Things list came to me via Breadchick, who I have only become acquainted with via the parallel universe that is blogging. The Blogiverse. The Blearth. And similar takes on combining blog and words denoting some sort of terrain, landscape or life-supporting bubble. On with it, then:
Seven Things To Do Before I Die
1. See Paris. And ride Vespas through Rome. Your basic Continent-with-steamer-trunks fantasy.
2. Drive the Alaska Highway.
3. Get a Masters Degree In either Creative Writing or World Literature.
4. Convince the world to stop needing so much Stuff.
5. Save the glaciers.
6. Make someone happy.
7. Buy a Showtime Rotisserie, Ronco Food Dehydrator, Magic Bullet, and whichever Abercizer strikes my fancy at 2 am in the morning.
Seven Things I Can’t Do
1. Play dumb.
2. Shop for clothes.
3. Tolerate engineers of any stripe. We are different species, the engineers and I.
4. Sit next to persons who are chewing gum without smacking them.
6. Play musical instruments.
Seven Things That Attract Me To Blogging
1. Me. Me. Me. I fascinate you, don’t I?
2. The chance to imitate my brilliant friend who showed me the way of the blog.
3. Keeping up with friends, both the ones I can’t get away from and the ones I’ve never met.
4. The way it forces me to write even when I don’t want to, just to keep up appearances.
5. Looking all cool and techno-savvy.
6. Writing and stuff.
7. Sharing my interests and obsessions and discovering new ones along the way.
Seven Things I Say Most Often
1. Where are my keys?
2. Sugar! (as in Shit!)
3. Anal (Car Name)
5. Am I rambling?
6. Never put off til tomorrow what you can put off forever.
7. I can’t sleep. / I’m hungry.
Seven Books That I Love
1. The Great Gatsby
2. Pride and Prejudice
3. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
4. The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (the basis for the movie Adaptation)
5. Morning, Noon and Night by Sidney Sheldon
6. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
7. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Seven Movies I Watch Again and Again
1. Office Space
2. Sixteen Candles/Pretty in Pink/The Breakfast Club
3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
5. Grease/Saturday Night Fever
6. Little Shop of Horrors
Seven People I Want To Join In Too
I guess this is where I do my little shout-out that makes you feel all special and glowy inside. Fine.
2. Biscuit Whore
7. Oh yeah, and you too, James.
I read a review of this book a few weeks ago and thought it would be a perfect gift for the husband. He’s all about recognizing the little-known, underappreciated actors who appear in actual movies and not just tabloids. Except Donovan seems to know the names of all these people, the movies they’ve been in, and assorted anecdotes about their careers. We’ll be watching something like A Night at the Roxbury and making comments like “Hey, isn’t that Jennifer Coolidge playing the cop?” (You may know her as “Stifler’s Mom”), “Dan Hedaya just kills me,” or “Lochlyn Munro seems to get more roles than anyone else who was on Northwood, doesn’t he?”
Of course, when I gave him the book, Donovan thanked me, then looked at me real hard and asked “But this is really for you isn’t it?” And I must admit that I do have a thing for the anonymous yet hard-working actors of the movie world. I have a crush on Steve Buscemi, for gawd sake. (He gets a two-page spread in the book.) Character actors rarely hit that Big Box Office status (Philip Seymour Hoffman, congrats on your ascendancy), but they fill in the colour of celluloid action and often do very interesting work while they’re at it.
Hey! It’s That Guy! draws mostly on its website content to profile character actors. It organizes the people by the movie habitats in which they are found, such as Army, Office, Suburbs, the Backwoods, and The Hideout. Plus, for the true character actor groupie, there is an interview with Stephen “Ned! Ryerson!” Tobolowsky and a page anointing the late J.T. Walsh as The Patron Saint of Character Actors Everywhere.
Yes, that’s right, I have a crush on Steve Buscemi.
However, since I wondered why some of my favourites – such as Christopher McDonald of Grease 2 and Happy Gilmore and everything in between fame – were not in the book, I visited Fametracker.com. Despite some of the content being pretty old in some places, the site has some good snarky fun writing. I especially dug the Fame Audit and Celebrity vs. Thing sections.
It’s so much fun just watching movies at home. You can spew all kinds of useless trivia, drink $2 beers instead of $5 pops, and dissect inane plotlines to your heart’s content.
I am feeling wistful, yet depressed. There’s been another delay on the apartment front and we may be here for a few weeks more. I think my movies must miss me too….
It’s not as if I’ve been in the best of moods lately – and I won’t bore you with the details of why – but I’m in a better one now, thanks to seeing The Producers tonight. First of all, it’s a musical and I reckon it would be pretty hard not to be cheered up by singin’ and dancin’. In fact, even if I were watching Grease 2, quite possibly the WORST musical ever made, it would cheer me by virtue of its sheer audacious badness and clumsy double-entendres. Michelle Pfeiffer’s echo chamber solo of “Cool Rider” while straddling a ladder? The bowling alley production number of “We’re Gonna Score Tonight”? Adrian Zmed? I like the way musicals try. Even their misguided efforts can make you smile goofily and forget your own un-art directed life.
But The Producers is nothing at all like Grease 2 (except that both are musicals) because it takes totally inappropriate subject matter and makes it funny. Which is why it’s funny? No, in lesser hands, a musical about making a bad musical about Nazis would be just stupid and offensive. As the whole theatre roars at the set piece “Hitler in Springtime” I’m thinking to myself, “Should I be laughing?” There’s such a weird feeling of roaring out loud when something really shocking appears on the screen, such as a dance formation in the shape of a swastika with a gay Hitler and showgirl played by Uma Thurman emoting from the centre.
(I’m just waiting for the Google searches that come out of that paragraph. Drop the Hate, losers!)
In the beginning, The Producers does feel very theatre-like because you have to get used to the exaggerated characters and set-like sets. And on into the first musical number it starts to feel like something out of the old Hollywood “let’s put on a show” musicals when Nathan and Matthew waltz down the streetscape and get into a cab complete with one of those fake backgrounds of other cars on the street. But once I was in, I was completely suckered in to the world on the screen. It’s pretty darn rare for a movie to hoover me in, body and soul, and let me forget about all my usual neurotic annoyances.
I wouldn’t want to spoil for you, now that you want to go see it too, all the details of the storyline and the cameos. My only advice is to stay for the credits.
I’d also like to send out a big Thank You to Miss Angie, for the swell New Year’s Party last night. You were a darling hostess.
Freedom, horrible freedom! I wrote my last exams on Friday, did the drunk celebration thing with classmates, and now what do I do with myself? I have this weird sense of withdrawal similar to my mental state brought on by finishing a good book and then wondering what the heck to read next?
Not that I mind so much not having to spend a good chunk of the weekend preparing the several assignments due each week in this course. For instance, last night, instead of hunkering down with classmates to study diabolically obscure grammar points (fuck yeah, I know what a restrictive appositive is!), I got to spend Saturday evening with aka Maktaaq and Matt watching Buster Keaton movies and eating mini-mountains of Greek appetizers. Those silent movies are fantastic. As we watched stunts such as a chase through a house full of trap doors in The High Sign and do-it-yourself comedy in One Week, we realized Scooby Doo and Bugs Bunny had been ripping off Buster Keaton for sight gags all these years. (Charlie Chaplin’s too.)
Today was more of a doing-stuff-I-was-meaning-to-get-done day. Besides going for a two-hour walk through the neighbourhood with my dog, I got down and organized a bunch of our stuff that hadn’t been packed up when we moved out of our apartment. We had randomly thrown the last items from kitchen and bathroom into shopping bags and transported them at the end of the move. And there they sat, loose on the floor and in the garage: the plastic bag full of plates, the pile of purses on the floor, and the shoebox of bank statements. It was always at the back of my mind as I wrote this genre analysis or revised that essay, stupid as that sounds. I hate clutter as much as I hate small noises. They get into my brain.
At some point this month, when the Christmas shopping, and everything else that needs to be done, is done, I’ll sit back and think about how much I learned this last term, all the while anticipating the geeky delights of the second (copyediting, anyone?) Please, oh god, Santa, Satan, let me have moved by then. I won’t be having any International Foods Coffee moments living in this Christmas-with-the-family asylum. I was just thinking about how much I missed my classmates – the Grammar Rodeo buckaroos as well as the slappers – and was interrupted by my mother vacuuming. It’s 10 pm. She’s been going at it for well over an hour.
But I digress. I feel confused and lost and unsure of how to actually relax. I’m sure that I’ll get one of those illnesses you get on vacation when your body has to adjust to not stressing out for a while. “It’s only been a DAY,” Donovan said. Definitely some withdrawal happening. Hold me closer, Tony Danza.
I’m really excited that the new Capote movie is opening today, but I’m really pissed off that I just read a review in the newspaper and it told me exactly what the end of the film was! I mean, it’s not as if anything in Truman Capote’s life was a big secret, but does the reviewer really need to go ahead and tell me what the event is that marks the end of the film? Here I was all excited because Philip Seymour Hoffman (the man who mouthed the phrase “Little Lebowski Urban Achievers”), all-around brilliant actor, is playing one of my very favourite writers, and now all I can think about is the stupid spoiler Sun critic ruining it all for me. Thanks a lot, hack. “Spoiler alert” much?