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Bang Bang Baby (2014)
What did I just watch?
I watched this all the way to the end (which is saying a lot for me --- I rapidly stop watching movies that don't appeal to me) but I still have no idea what I saw. It is definitely fascinating, everything from the imagery to the country music soundtrack (weirdly mismatched to the visuals), to story line.
But what the heck is it about? Give up your dreams to support your parents? Be an awful spouse (then parent) because your life turned out unlucky? Don't ever hope because the hopes won't come true? Suffer through the pain because (five years later) it does eventually get better?
I have no idea what the intellectual message was (or even what the story ultimately was). Mainly I just picked up on the tone, which was pretty much unadulterated downer. Comedy this is not. But, like I said, strange enough that I just kept watching all the way to the end.
Totally tone deaf
It's obvious why Hollywood would want to make this monstrosity --- milk a concept till you have utterly destroyed its value is the only model they know. Less clear why Marvel would go along with trashing their brand.
Others have done a good job of listing the many ways in which this sucks, but let me touch on a different theme, namely how tone deaf the production is. There's an obvious aspect top this in the complete lack of humor through all eight episodes of the first season, whereas humor is an essential component of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe properties.
But far far worse is the political tone deafness. Presenting a royal family steeped in aristocratic ideals, and who essentially learn nothing throughout the storyline, may work in material aimed at tweens, but does not go down well with adults in America 2017. The protagonists are willing to move heaven and earth to resurrect one of their family, but minutes later don't give a damn about killing a dozen other people. They claim that from now on they'll treat their subjects well, but we don't see a *single* example of this, not *one* case where the royals talk to a commoner showing any interest in their lives or respect for them.
Even the bringing back from the dead of Gorgon was emotionally kack-handed. Compare how, for example, Joss Wheedon handled this with Buffy, where the misery this caused Buffy, and the way she bore it, generated serious emotional empathy. The way Inhumans handled this just generates emotional bafflement. OK, so doing this "goes against our customs" --- and why should I, the viewer, care about a custom I've never heard of, and that sounds pretty stupid? And is bringing back Gorgon in pain some sort of balancing of individual suffering against communal need? Not at all, it's the selfish choice of one individual with no larger implications, and thus with no emotional resonance.
Other people have listed their reasons why this sucked, and those reasons are likewise true. But the architectural problem with the series, I think, is this tone deafness I keep coming back to. The whole thing seems to have been put together by someone without a clue about how people will respond viscerally to what they are seeing. So we get a very plodding story of "family", "heroes", "villains", but written by someone who doesn't understand that it's the constant flow of small details that makes a story work and that make us care about, even love, the protagonists.
My Ex-Ex (2015)
A Canadian version of a Farrelly Bros movie
This is like a mid-level Farrelly Bros movie. Not in the class of Dumb and Dumb or There's Something about Mary, but above misfires like Outside Providence or Stuck on You.
The story is eminently predictable (and eminently depressing/unlikely --- our heroine is pretty damn hot and supposedly smart, which suggests that she has more options than just "awful man" and "loser boy", guess which she picks), but has enough funny (and, yes, gross-out) scenes along the way to justify the journey.
Point Break (2015)
Neither better nor worse than the original. They both suck.
There was the germ of a good idea in the original Point Break that was ruined by all the mystical woo that was supposed to justify the whole thing.
In principal this movie could have extracted that good idea, removed the mystical nonsense, given everyone sane motivations, and provided us with a great action movie. Instead we get the same idiotic dialog, and the same ridiculous behavior ("let's accept random strangers into our tight club because the universe tells me to") as the first time round.
The one thing this movie does better than its predecessor is that the action sequences/stunts, and the scenery are vastly superior. But the parts between those sequences and that scenery are pretty damn painful to sit through. Who knows, maybe in twenty years or so we'll get a second remake, this time stripped of the "spiritual bromance" nonsense?
Hollywood & Wine (2011)
Vastly better than expected
Look, I know, I know. Chris Kattan is definitely a red flag in a movie. And David Spade and Norm MacDonald are, let's say, erratic in the quality of their movies. SNL-cast movies tend to be based on a dumb premise with few gags to relieve the predictable tedium.
But basically everything comes together in this gem. The pacing never flags, there are multiple nutty plot-lines that all weave together most satisfactorily. And Norm MacDonald is at his absolute deadpan best, constantly saying these lines that are some combination of disgusting and/or insane as though he's a sophisticated aristocrat having the most reasonable conversation in the world.
This is a comedy that had me laughing from beginning to end --- and I'm a guy who stops watching most so-called comedies after 10 minutes because I haven't seen one thing that's funny or intriguing.
My Dead Boyfriend (2016)
I guess this movie is a specialized taste, given the discrepancy between my review and the average rating, but I thought it was freaking hysterical, with the advantage of being substantially original.
Ever the optimist, I watch (or at least start to watch) a lot of so-called comedies and, believe me, most of what's called comedy is basically "story that couldn't find a better genre". Which is my way of saying that I appreciate a real comedy. Having said that, this is not your traditional Inspector Clouseau or American Pie sort of comedy --- creating funny situations that usually involve someone looking silly, slapstick, misunderstanding, that sort of thing. It's the harder, and more rarely successful, comedy of the absurd --- a ridiculous situation, where everyone behaves just slightly off-kilter. Much of that sort of thing relies on embarrassment, ie excruciating comedy, and while I like my Sasha Baron-Cohen in small doses, I find that hard to watch.
But this is something completely different. The situation is (and remains) hysterical because our heroine has such ridiculous reactions to everything, starting with her utter lack of concern at coming home to her dead boyfriend. In addition to the absurdity of each successive stage of the story, Mary, the main character, is a marvelous collection of incongruous attributes. She appears to be the embodiment of a dozen comedy stereotypes, but she's not quite any of them. She's utterly self-centered and uninterested in anything that's not to her immediate benefit or interest --- but she's Heather Graham and so, not just pretty but sweet and innocent looking, that you can't really believe her narcissism. She's a slacker and a moocher --- but she does have some real talents. She's irresponsible and short-sighted --- but she is also competent where it matters.
I'd put it in the same sort of category as _Violet & Daisy_, or _Family Weekend_, or _The Big Hit_, three other movies I can think of with ludicrous plots and characters, that all work because they buy into the storyline enough that you care what happens, while simultaneously playing up how insane their story is.
Barely Legal (2011)
Better than average teenage sex comedy
OK, let's be real here. It's a teenage sex comedy. We all know what to expect. So the criteria are not how it provides insight into the human condition, they are whether it is funny. The sad truth is that most teenage sex comedies suck as far as laughs go. The exceptional ones --- your American Pie or Superbad --- keep you laughing pretty much nonstop, but 90% of the movies in this category consist of not just a formulaic plot but also not a single laugh.
So how does this compare? Well in the hope that the screenwriter one day reads these reviews, let me give my analysis. Naomi Selfman has written a few movies in this vein, but the two best (IMHO) are this and the 18 Year Old Virgin. The good thing about both of these movies is that they are strongly written from the female point of view, which is not just empowering, blah blah, it also provides for a whole new line of jokes. ON THE OTHER HAND both these movies suffer in the script, primarily I suspect from lack of time. Once the script seemed finished, it should have been put aside for three months or so, then revised. And perhaps had a collaborator brought on board.
In both cases the overall premise for the movie is good. It is presented, and grabs our attention right away, the pacing throughout the movie is good, and little time is wasted on nonsense. The problem is with the jokes themselves. These come in a few different forms
- sometimes a good joke lives off tension. The audience can see what is going to happen, but it doesn't quite happen, then it doesn't quite happen, then it almost but doesn't quite happen, and then, just when you've given up, it happens. - other times a good joke happens out of left field, totally not what and when you expected
Both of these are missing in the scripts. The jokes, while funny, are formulaic --- we see the setup, and there's no variation or surprise in the pacing.
- a third problem (and this really seems a problem with rushed scripts) is the setup that goes nowhere. For example the on-going water balloons in this movie. They seemed like there was supposed to be a setup there --- but there was never a payoff. If a payoff couldn't be figured out, the setup should have been stripped out the movie.
- the final problem is that the absolute best moments in comedy come from the serial gag that builds up in ever more ludicrous ways. We see the first joke and laugh, then somewhat later we see an extension to it and laugh, then even later we see a truly over the top version of it and laugh till our guts ache. There was none of that sort of ongoing serial gag in this. For example the setup of Sue with the washing machine was a good start. But that should have continued to the vacuum cleaner not being the mild gag that it was but more something like she starts to clean (in front of everyone else) realizes what's happening, and even so loses control in front of them while they all stare. Then even later we see something unexpected like she's walking along the street with her grandmother, a pneumatic drill starts pounding up the street, and they both go flush and start twitching and trying to control themselves, while the grandmother says "I guess you really are one of us" or something.
I do hope Naomi Selfman gets a chance to write more of these comedies from the female point of view, but I ALSO hope that she has a chance to spend more time on the future scripts so that they move from around "better than average" to "OMG I could not stop laughing". We'll see.
Live and Let Die (1973)
The original title was "Whitey, Beware!"
This is a truly amazing movie to watch in the year of Trump, and compare to the year it was made, 1973 so 43 years ago. I can't imagine that everyone involved had an explicit political message; rather they were just channeling the times. But damn, what times they were channeling.
Every stereotype of "the other" you can imagine is here, and proudly displayed. Black men do, in fact, form a single organized cabal. They are intent on poisoning "us" all. They want to steal and deflower "our" women. They believe in strange savage cults and engage in ghastly rituals. Hell, in the last mass ritual scene I half expected the boiling pot to come out and a cannibalism trope to join everything else we'd seen so far.
It's a weird weird mix --- think James Bond meets the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, with the word Jew find-and-replaced with Black. You have to see it to believe it.
Oh, and of course the usual Bond formula is well established by now. We have the gadgets, the multiple different types of chases and fights, the underground lair, the stupid evil genius who cannot shut up about his evil plans and never just shoots his enemy the moment he see him. We even have the first prototype of that canonical Roger Moore James Bond villain, Jaws!
If you're going to see just one early Bond movie, make it this one; if for no other reason than to see how much has changed (and how much hasn't) over forty+ years.
World War Z (2013)
Awful, just awful
The worst sin in movie making is to not understand your audience; and OMG, this movie has that in spades.
We watch action movies for two reasons --- thrills and to see heroism, competence, and the best of humanity. But this movie offers few thrills, and nothing of the best of humanity. The supposed hero cares more about his family than about the rest of humanity, and such successes as he achieves are purely the result of luck, because it's not like he's actually especially good at anything, whether it's fighting, small-scale tactics, or large-scale planning. On the other hand, his wife is every bit as short-sighted and selfish as him, so perhaps that's his concern, that with her gone he'd never find a replacement willing to put up with him and his colossal selfishness and short- sightedness?
I don't ask for every one of my action heroes to be supermen, possessors of a "very special set of skills", or suchlike. But I do expect them to have enough common sense to understand concepts like "if the entire human race is destroyed, that INCLUDES my family, so maybe I should forget about them for a few days and actually SOLVE the damn problem we're facing?"
Think of the lousiest action movie you've ever seen (I'd suggest the Transformers franchise as an example). Awful as these movies are, from the utter lack of logic throughout them, to the wanton destruction, at least they have the redeeming feature of considering something (humanity or the nation) as more important than one single human being.
But then every so often some lunatic at Hollywood decides it would be a good idea to create a "family-friendly" action movie of the form "everyman and his lame-ass family get caught in some huge event; everyman shows what a stellar human being he is by being willing to kill or abandon every other human on earth to save his three family members; and we're suppose to cheer for him".
This is what counts as a family-friendly message --- no-one on earth matters except you and your immediate family! If you have the slightest hint of ethics in your body, you'll avoid these sorts of movies and prevent anyone you know from seeing them.
Remember when you first saw The Matrix? And you walked out the movie theater drenched in sweat, asking your friend in amazement "What the hell did we just see??!!" This is the first movie I have seen this then that gave me that feeling of utter astonishment, of total immersion in a complete insane alternative reality. That's no small achievement.
OK, yes, it's not realistic, it's not even pretending to be realistic. OK much of it makes no sense. OK it has pretty much no redeeming social value. BUT imagine every piece of lunatic action you've ever seen in a movie, crank them up to 11, and splice them together pretty much uninterrupted for 100 minutes, tie them together with a story that has you wondering just what crazy thing will happen next, and you have, IMHO, pretty much everything I want from this sort of movie.
Ten Inch Hero (2007)
OK, let's be honest. I've seen (the start of) a hundred of these sorts of movies --- low-budget indie flick about a quirky group of friends, billed as a comedy but not really many laugh-out-loud moments. Most of them are utterly dreadful, and I can tell within ten minutes that I hate these people and/or have utterly no interest in their lives.
But every so often you get lucky and the whole thing works. From the first minutes you're intrigued by something, you soon care about every one of the characters, and by the end you're as in love with them as they all are with each other.
Watch it with someone you love; you'll be happy you did so!
The Trouble with Bliss (2011)
The usual indie blender-car
What's a blender car? Suppose you're out buying cars and the salesman tells you that this car's special feature is that not only will it take you places, provide a great GPS system etc, but it has a blender built into the back seat. Are you impressed?
Pretty much every indie movie I see is a blender-car. Rather than concentrating on perfecting the A-story, the scriptwriter and/or director and/or producer insist on throwing in a totally irrelevant blender which simply wastes time and detracts from the main story. For this particular movie, the blender is, I can't even describe it, some weird theory that conspiracies of unknown people secretly control the world or something. It certainly has nothing to do with the A-story of man-child growing up after two sub-optimal female encounters.
So what's the bottom line? The A-story is something you've seen a million times. Man child, grumpy father, precocious 18yr old girl, you know the deal. I kept watching it because the verve and unpredictability of Brie Larson was delightful, but that's not enough. Meanwhile the blender is just pointless with no sort of payoff and no connection to the rest of the movie; removing its 5 minutes would have changed utterly nothing.
So, yeah, don't waste your time. The best dialog occurs in the first ten minutes, and waiting for the rest of the movies to reproduce that spark is just disappointing.
American High School (2009)
A weak attempt, but at least understand what it is trying for
This is a strange movie, as you can tell by reading the split in the reviews, but I think you have to understand that it belongs in the Glee or Strangers with Candy genre --- broad-brush satire that is well aware of how fake and silly it is --- not the Beverly Hills 90210 or Saved by the Bell earnest after school genre.
So the question, then, is how well does it perform within its genre? I think the answer is adequately, but not great. There are a few touches that are original and amusing, things like: the apparently deliberate choice of 30 yr old actors for the students, who therefore frequently can't be distinguished from the actors for the teachers. (This is even referenced/mocked at one point). Also the over-the-top awfulness of the wanna-be-cool Hollywood parent, or the lechery of the school principal. But overall the script is weak, not enough strong laughs, and some flat-out horrible scenes that are disgusting rather than amusing and that don't move the story along.
I'd say if you have some reason to study this particular genre (parodies of high school TV/movies) it's worth seeing for completeness sake; but if you simply want to be amused by the genre you're better off watching reruns of Glee or Strangers with Candy (or Glee Gone to College aka Scream Queens). There remains scope for a good movie in this genre. The best apparently similar movies (like American Pie) are more teenager than high school; and most of the specifically high school parody movies are more from the point of view of the teacher and too earnest, ala Sex Ed, or too sucky ala Bad Teacher; or are pastiche (High School High).
The Martian (2015)
The cinema of competence
Neal Stephenson once wrote that the primary gap between those who like "literature" and those who like "science fiction" is in the attitude of the readers towards competence: there are people who like to read about humans who know what they are doing and DO it, and there are people who prefer to read about humans who dither, waste time, engage in self-sabotage, and generally screw up their lives and the lives of those around them.
Generally movies, IMHO, cater far too much to the second category --- even when we have substantially competent humans (for example John Maclane of the Die-hard movies) there are always a few scenes thrown in to show what a screwup he is in some aspect or other of his life --- can't hold his marriage together, can't communicate with his kids, whatever.
So it's (again IMHO) something of a pleasure to view a movie of unalloyed competence. We do NOT see stupid (and unrealistic and totally unjustified) self-sabotage in this movie. Not only does the hero (and the rest of his support team) know what they are doing, but everyone else ALSO acts like a damn professional. We don't see the female captain of the ship abandon her earth lover to fall in love with the first officer. We see people think about their wives and kids for a few moments, yes, then get back to work --- just like real professionals do in the real world.
Mine appears to be a minority (though not minuscule) opinion --- I'm seeing lots of people here whining about the fact that we never see our hero engaged in some sort of Hamlet-style bemoaning his fate, wondering whether he should give up, or crying over pictures of his family back home. Well, they're entitled to their opinions, but I'm also entitled to mine. And I say we need a whole lot more movies about professionals acting like adults, and a whole lot fewer movies of adults acting like overgrown children and engaging in magical thinking (ie the sort of idiocy that made Interstellar a good-looking pile of c**p).
French version of _The Proposal_ and a dozen similar movies
The most interesting thing about this movie is seeing how very like a Hollywood movie it was, in spite of being French. We have a very standard plot --- driven neat-freak boss interacts with laid-back messy slob, they fight, they interact some more, they fall in love.
Unfortunately we also get the standard problems with the genre:
- No real reason is ever presented for why these two opposites would fall in love, apart from the fact that they spend some time in close proximity.
- The more unsavory aspects of the boss's behavior are excused as more or less acceptable in an artistic temperament (a fantasy Hollywood loves to tell us, and hopes we will one day believe, for rather obvious self-serving reasons).
- We're supposed to believe that our two adults, once they've found each other will compromise to both become driven (but not too driven) and neat (but not too neat); but it always seems to be that the driven, neat person has to compromise rather more than the disorganized slob...
I'd rate it as worth watching because of the exoticism, but as a US movie I'd have abandoned it after 15 min. The only thing that makes a movie like this worth watching is the comedy, and there simply wasn't enough of that to justify its existence in this genre.
On the positive side, the lead actress is a delight to watch. She's not exactly beautiful, but she carries, clothes , and projects herself so well that it doesn't matter. (Which makes it even more of a travesty to imagine that she'd settle for a slob in her life. In the last 10 minutes or so, you basically see her carriage melt away and I, for one, do not see this as a great triumph, an improvement in who she is.)
OMG so great!
I'm not going to lie: I find most documentaries awful. The director treats the audience as ignorant idiots, the pacing is glacial, there are more attempts to add fake drama and tension than a reality TV show.
But every so often the material being treated is so fascinating, so beyond the bounds of what you've seen before, that even the most clumsy director cannot screw up. And this is what we have here --- something that was made as an episode of a TV nature documentary but which rises so far above its origins as to be considered a movie and a masterpiece.
Any decent person already knows that the octopus is the most beautiful, the most intelligent, the most fascinating, the all round best sea animal! But even for someone like me who loves them, it was an absolute treat to see so much high quality footage of them floating in the water, displaying their many camouflage talents, and above all solving one problem after another in various labs.
If you already love octopodes, you'll delight in seeing more of them. And if you don't love them, believe me this movie will change your mind. On multiple occasions through it you'll feel as much emotion as in a "real" movie, encouraging the octopus to solve his problem, then cheering triumphantly as he succeeds.
I found this in the movies section of hoopla.com, so it might also be on some of the other movie streaming sites. I know watching a documentary seems like chore when there are so many traditional movies out there. But believe me, you won't regret it.
Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)
My LA is no better than, but is definitely different from his LA
What I found most interesting about this movie is how starkly it showed that we all live in different worlds. I loved the movie, the way it was structured, what it focused on. But at the end of the day, the director's LA is not my LA (starting from trivial things like his assertion that the term LA is an insult).
For example: his LA says nothing about trees, whereas one of the things I try to point out to visitors is how many trees we have, all over the city, vastly more than you'd expect, of great variety. My LA extends eastward almost to Palmdale, his runs from the coast to about highway 110. My LA is fascinated by man's accomplishments, from the cluster of antennas (and the observatory) on Mount Wilson, to the traps in the San Gabriel mountains preventing landslides, to the fact that the freeways work as well as they do, to the massive water projects keeping us all going. His LA is uninterested in the control of nature. My LA loves the fact that material items are so cheap, whether you're looking at any of the masses of malls, or buying second hand in any of the masses of Goodwill stores. He doesn't see the cheap material items, rather the expensive no-materials (rent, medical, education, etc). My LA is interested in how many educational establishments we have, of such variety; his LA does not even mention these institutions.
This is not to criticize him or the movie --- the world is huge and none of us can know more than a tiny part of it. It is simply to point out that LA is likewise huge, and the perspectives he gives, while part of the story are far from the whole story, from the whole undiscussed issue of teenager movies and the portrayal of LA high schools, to the complete lack of reference to the LA Arboretum or Huntington Gardens (both locations used in so many movies).
(Yeah yeah, you can argue that he is talking about Los Angeles city, not LA metro, but come on. That's like snobbish New Yorkers insisting that Manhattan is the whole of NYC. It's a blinkered, empty way to live your life.)
If you're not a local, come visit and see for yourself. The good things he says about it are true --- there is so much beauty in the whole metro --- and many of the bad things from police to racism have (touch wood) been resolved or at least improved and are improving.
A film by intelligent adults for intelligent adults
IMDb's intro to this movie starts "Ted, a stuffy white guy from Illinois working in sales", and there, right away, we have the problem. If you're an arrested child, who thinks that the idea of working in sales equals death, and that considering the consequences of your actions equals "stuffy", then I expect you will hate this film. But for the rest of us, it's a breath of fresh air.
Other people have said what's appealing about it --- the unexpected zigs and zags of the story, the amusing (though not laugh-out-loud funny) dialog, the portrayal of a dynamic between two guys that's touching without ever being cloying. But for me what I enjoyed was the (depressingly rare) chance to see people acting as adults.
It is nice to see someone who takes their job seriously and tries hard to do well at it, rather than concentrating all his energy on goofing off and avoiding the boss. (This goes for both Fred and Ted.) It's nice to see people thinking seriously about what is and is not working in their romantic lives and how to fix it. It's nice to see people not relying on ridiculous clichés about fate and destiny as the solutions to all their problems.
Meanwhile, on the other side, it's nice to see all this seriousness but in a movie populated by basically decent people, people you don't hate, in a movie that isn't ramming some sort of absurdly non-subtle message down your throat ala most indie cinema.
I'm pretty impatient with movies. I'd say 70% of the movies I watch, after 10 minutes I switch it off because the movie has in no way captured my interest. I haven't laughed, I haven't been surprised, all I've seen is the same old **** I've seen a million times before. Maybe it's the husband and wife fighting with each other. Maybe it's the "those were the days" kids playing. Maybe it's the nerdish guy being belittled by other people at work. You know what I mean --- five minutes into the movie and you know the stereotypes every character fits, and exactly how it will all play out.
What so appealed to me about this movie is how (without "twists" or gimmicks) it doesn't follow that path. The primary characters kept growing and revealing new aspects to their characters throughout the movie in a way that's all too rare. Give it a chance!
You call that a twist?
There are two big problems with the movie.
The easier problem to remedy is the pacing. There's just too much time spent on material that adds nothing to the plot or the ambiance. 90 minutes might have been a good length, but 120 minutes is way too long.
The larger problem is that the final twist is so stupid it destroys the rest of the experience. A satisfactory twist in a movie consists of three parts:
- the twist is unexpected
- the twist makes sense/plausibility within the movie universe (ie no magic deus ex machina, no lucky coincidences)
- the twist is organic to the storyline. Once it happens, we review the previous material in our minds and see that, yes, it makes even more sense within the light of the twist.
Something that doesn't follow these rules is not a twist, it's a gimmick, the sort of BS that leaves you swearing that you'll never again waste your time watching a movie by that particular director and screenwriter.
This movie delivers a completely satisfactory twist in the first act, leaving one to expect that the second act will be resolved just as satisfactorily. But no such luck --- the second act ends with a gimmick. Unexpected yes, but barely plausible, and utterly inorganic to the story.
The play (from what I read on Wikipedia) seems to have done a substantially better job of making the ending feel natural. So we have the not too unusual story of movie makers (the director? the producers? the financiers?) too stupid to understand what was actually valuable in the property they chose to adapt and insisting on "improving" it. Oh well, what can you do? The stupid will always be with us.
Only really worth watching for the exoticism
OK, so this is a romantic comedy, but a French version of the genre (with subtitles). Is it worth watching? I'd say no if it were an Anglo movie. You've seen this done a hundred times before. The bromance. The sloppy guy with no compelling attributes who, amazingly, gets not one but two hot women to fall for him. The only real question is will it go the 90% route (he sticks with his fiancé) or the 10% route (something comes up that justifies his leaving his fiancé). There's not much humor (or perhaps it doesn't translate from French).
The primary reason I'd recommend seeing it is that It's interesting to see familiar things in unfamiliar contexts. Do the French have bromances? Do they rely on unrealistic coincidences to move the forward? Do they use lazy clichés to get something to happen? Are their scripts the results of bizarre hatchet work, and based on ideas that seem to have been discarded along the way, but which have left fossil traces in movie in the form on non-sequiturs and character quirks that seem to have no obvious connection to the rest of the plot? Can they be Bechdel tested? Why, yes, yes to all!
This is your average "two broken people find each other" movie. Unfortunately that's ALL it is. If you like that sort of thing, fine, but I was really hoping the backdrop of the impending end of the world would be explored in a lot more detail.
Instead it might as well not be there. Remove the apocalypse and practically nothing about the movie changes. I don't need to watch ninety minutes to learn that the way most people will handle such a situation will be to find someone to fall in love with. I didn't expect a documentary on "This is the way the world ends", and I certainly didn't want an action flick; but I was hoping for some sort of unusual and interesting insights into how people and society might behave under the circumstances. But I didn't see a thing that you wouldn't get on an episode of Family Feud: "name five clichés of how people will behave when the world is about to end".
Drop Dead Gorgeous (2010)
Good, but NOT the movie that the poster advertises
I think the reason this movie has such a low rating (and some bad reviews) is that it suffers from an *extreme* version of the discrepancy between the actual movie and the movie that is advertised. To look at the poster you'd imagine you're in for some sort of "Weekend at Bernie's Fashion Week" or "Zoolander 2: Derelicte meets Dead". The movie is good, but it's nothing like that.
The movie is a genuine black comedy. I'm a guy who likes his comedies laugh out loud (think "There's Something About Mary"), and this is not that type of comedy. It's amusing, but there's nothing especially laugh-worthy in it. This is, rather, absurdist comedy, the sort of thing you watch because you can't believe anyone would think that way and you want to see how much more awfully they will behave.
A movie that criticizes the fashion industry is not especially daring; what makes this one work is that the satire is so well-structured and, simultaneously, over-the-top but also completely organic. You don't see ham-handed rants against capitalism, modeling agencies and the rest (except for one rather ham-handed sequence against documentary film-makers); rather what you see is an oddly compelling story that just happens to show terrible things along the way.
One final reason to watch: the model star of the show, Cynthia, played by Ivy Levan, looks insanely like Jennifer Lawrence throughout the entire movie. It's uncanny, and I don't know to what extent it's deliberate, but adds well to the whole air of "reality but unreality" of the piece.
Just a Kiss (2002)
Way way above average
Look, let's be honest here: this is a film that most people are going to hate. But if you're in the small group that like it, you're going to love it. It is NOT, contrary to what some reviewers are saying, a, "meh, average" film.
This is emphatically not a genre film --- you don't know what to expect, and you can't judge it by genre conventions. In particular, give it about 20 minutes to set the mood and see if you like that.
To the extent that it is any genre, it's dark/absurdist comedy. Some funny things happen, some completely unexpected and ridiculous things happen. But it's the comedy of ridiculousness, not on-going laugh-out-loud comedy.
It's also not IMHO, pace some other commenters, meant to be a deep meditation on the fragility of life, how one small thing can change lives; it's not Sliding Doors or Run Lola Run. It uses elements of that sort of setup, but for absurdist effect, not to ruminate on life.
Having said all that, I Ioved it. We have, in Rebecca the most desirable Manic Pixy Dreamgirl I've yet seen on screen. (Yes, yes, I know it's not PC to lust after MPGs, but, damn, done right they are so appealing; and boy was Rebecca done right.) We also have Marisa Tomei looking more lovely than in any other movie she's ever done. We have a constant stream of bizarre asides that do nothing to forward the plot but somehow just fit the movie (starting with the interaction with the taxi driver that opens the movie). What's not to love? Personally I wish more movies like this were made...
Take Me Home (2011)
Some charming moments, BUT...
It's a romantic comedy plus a road trip with some family drama. We've all seen a hundred of them. Which means it's all about the execution. And, sadly, that execution is only adequate, not great. The acting, the cinematography, even the story are fine.
What's not fine is that, like too many movies, the director and/or scriptwriter treat us like idiots who have never seen a movie before. The first fifteen minutes are a waste of time, setting up the characters in a way that's utterly unnecessary; and there are a few similar such moments through the rest of the movie where we are told the obvious.
Do yourself a favor and double your enjoyment of the movie. Skip through the first fifteen minutes in a minute or less, watching a scene here, 20 seconds there; jump in res media at 15 minutes, and experience the movie like an adult who doesn't need to be spoon fed genre conventions as though they're an audience member at L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat.
Mlyn i krzyz (2011)
Ridiculously, impossibly beautiful
To understand my review, I should say where I'm coming from. I'm not especially interested in, or moved by, art. I AM, however, interested in history. I found this movie utterly fascinating as a depiction of history, specifically of history as it was commonly lived. (As opposed to, for example, "Caravaggio", or "The Agony and the Ecstasy", both of which I found too obsessed with "story" at the expense of showing me something I didn't know about history.)
The movie IS boring, as some people have complained, in the sense that nothing much happens, and indeed long stretches of time go by without a word being uttered. I did not try to watch it in one go but rather spread out over four nights, and I think this pacing worked very well for my purposes, allowing me to sink into the world for 25 minutes or so, then leave when I was saturated.
It is an added bonus that the movie is so beautiful, so crisp, so sharp in its colors, so mannered in the composition of almost every scene. Another reviewer complained that this crispness and vibrancy is not really true to the Bruegel. Maybe so. I've not seen the original, and the pictures I have seen certainly have more muted colors and less well defined edges. But, as I said, I don't care about the art as much as the history; and the history seems, IMHO, done very well. Towards the end Bruegel makes a rather heavy handed and utterly obvious reference to Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" and the point that ordinary life goes on regardless of whether great events are happening somewhere. And that is, mostly, the ethos of the movie --- the portrayal of the ordinary events of life of the time, whether kids playing or barnyard animals being tended, against the backdrop of the specifically out of the ordinary of that time and place, namely the search for and treatment of heretics.
The only criticism I have is that (as opposed to the Auden reference which is, actually, rather delightful) there's rather too much "woe is humanity, why must be this way?" spoken voice-over throughout. Mary says pretty much nothing but these vapid, irritating, and completely content-free clichés, and maybe half of what Nicolaes Jonghelinck says is along the same lines. The movie would have been a whole lot stronger if it had simply shut up during those scenes and allowed the visuals to speak for themselves.
The one recommendation I would make is to try to see this at the highest resolution possible, at least Blu-Ray. The texture in almost every frame is so rich that you'd be missing out if you were to view it at DVD resolution, let alone at VHS quality.
Finally some other reviewers have complained that the scenes where everyone freezes are poorly executed, that one sees the animals moving, along with the occasional person in the background, and wind motion. This criticism, IMHO, misses the point. Obviously if the director wanted a Ken Burns effect, he could easily have obtained it: just take a photo and pan over it. The point of the minor movements in an otherwise still frame, IMHO, is to act as metaphor for the artist's mental composition. The bulk of the characters have been established, and they stand still, while the artist's mind toys with minor modifications of a few characters, which we see as those characters moving more or less substantially.