Thursday, March 11, 2010

Film Thoughts - 2/10

Thoughts on things I watched in February. Not all of these provoked enough thought for me to squeeze out a longer review, but this doesn't necessarily reflect on how much I enjoyed them. These were also posted on Netflix.

Basket Case - This splatstick horror film is fun and surprisingly shocking at the end. It's quirky enough to keep you guessing despite lagging a little in the middle. The premise is clever and pretty twisted - a young man named Duane seeks out revenge on the doctors who severed his horribly deformed conjoined twin while carrying the (still alive and now bloodthirsty) twin in a basket. While the gore isn't as over the top as it could have been (a la Braindead), the focus here isn't really on sight gags. More unsettling than the bloody parts are the uncomfortable situations it puts the severed twin in. I don't really know if this film was exploiting the notion of physical deformity for laughs or trying to say something about how we oppress and ignore those with some sort of deformity. Either way, it's unsettling. Even more disturbing is one of the DVD extras: "Beverly Bonner's Laugh Track" which showcases the public access comedy show of one of the film's actresses. It's one of the most unintentionally frightening things I've ever seen.

Chalk - A mockumentary focusing on the lives of several beginning teachers and newly appointed school administrators. Speaking from experience, this movie captures what it truly feels like to be a new teacher more than any other film I've seen. The teachers portrayed here aren't heroes or saviors (or even necessarily good teachers), but just slightly burned out adults trying as best they can to figure out how to manage a classroom. This film is at its best when it's not trying to be funny, but unfortunately it tries a little too hard. There's one dream sequence that feels completely out of place. Still, the unglamorous classroom footage is extremely well done, and conveys the awkwardness and absurdity of trying to figure out how exactly to teach high schoolers.

Cut-throats Nine - An unusually nihilistic and gory Euro-Western (Spanish, not Italian, so not "spaghetti"). I was lucky enough to catch a theatrical screening of this at Cinema Overdrive in February. Nine criminals on a chain gang escape from their mountain prison and struggle for survival against the elements and each other. This film goes into some very dark places, and is even more downbeat than a lot of the spaghetti westerns. There's not a lot more to say other than jump at the chance to see this if you can find it somewhere.

Finding Forrester
- A predictable, but well done teacher/mentor story. Sean Connery plays a hermit who befriends and mentors an underprivileged youth. The main character is a little unbelievable, (how many teenagers do you know who have independently worked their way through the canon of English literature?) but if you can suspend disbelief, it's an entertaining enough movie. Thankfully, it tries to avoid unnecessary sentimentality, but eventually caves. Comparable to Freedom Writers, but not nearly as saccharine.

Freaks and Geeks - I remember this show being on when I was in high school, but I'm glad I waited until long after I graduated to watch it. I don't think I would have appreciated the way it captures the awkwardness and struggle for identity that everyone seems to go through in their teenage years. The show follows Lindsay Weir and her younger brother Sam as they both try to fit in while attending high school in the early 80s. Lindsay is torn between hanging out with her dysfunctional "freak" friends and the more straight-edged ones she grew up with. Sam, on the other hand, struggles to adjust to freshman year and leaving his childhood behind. It's nice to have a high school series that completely ignores the jocks and cheerleaders to focus on the unpopular crowd. This show flips the bird to the completely false modern myth of teenage life that most shows set in high school try to romanticize.

Moon - A good, but not quite outstanding story of a lone man working on a lunar refinery who discovers that he's not... unique. To discuss this film too much is to ruin the fun of it, but I will say that it kept me guessing often enough to remain interesting. I'm kind of baffled that this got the hype that it did. The story is based on several staples of sci-fi, and doesn't bring a lot of new ideas to the table. The visuals are all right, but are clearly meant to evoke memories of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and in that sense, we've seen them all before. What is outstanding is Sam Rockwell's job as the only real actor in this film. He carries it when it starts to drag, and takes it to a level of poignancy that might have otherwise fallen flat.

Shutter Island - Scorsese's latest film is a polished horror story about a detective investigating the disappearance of a woman from an insane asylum. To add to the suspense, all of this takes place on a remote island as a storm of biblical proportions is brewing. Technically speaking, this film is a masterpiece. The visuals are beautiful, and it's clear that care was put into every shot. When special effects are present, they're not overused, and they fit seamlessly into the numerous dream sequences. If there's one thing that isn't spectacular, it's the plot. The story of the investigation is interesting enough to get things moving, and once it's going we're led along by tidbits of information that cause us to believe something sinister is going on behind the scenes in the asylum. But when the film reaches its denouement, it throws all its cards on the table and simply starts dictating to us as if we're too dumb to figure things out for ourselves. A little more editing in the final 30 minutes, and this would have been a truly great film. As it stands, it's still very good, and deserves your time.

Sunshine Cleaning - Several people recommended this movie to me knowing that I like dark comedies, but maybe I was expecting too much comedy. This little indie drama is more a meditation on death, albeit with humorous moments. Two down-on-their-luck sisters decide to start their own business cleaning up after crime scenes and end up learning a lot about themselves in the process. Nice enough, although a little more depressing than I initially expected.

Tom Goes to the Mayor - Initially this series has the same feel as many of the other deliberately bizarre Adult Swim cartoons: intentionally poor animation, musical numbers, awkward pauses and silences, "celebrity" cameos, etc. I got the feeling that the show's creators (Tim and Eric) were playing it relatively safe in the beginning. Eventually though, it starts to take on a life of its own and grows increasingly demented and dark. By the final season the show drops all pretense of logic and plot to the point where it simply had to end because it couldn't outdo itself. Perfectly lampoons the absurdity of life in a small town or suburb and pokes fun at everything from infomercials, bad powerpoint presentations, and local news to small-town celebrations and shopping malls.


Carriers - A great character-driven post-apocalyptic road movie. More thoughts forthcoming.

Testament - A post-apocalyptic film focusing on a small town's struggle for survival after a nuclear attack. More thoughts forthcoming.

Who Can Kill a Child? - A somewhat disappointing evil kid movie. More thoughts forthcoming.

Grace - A not-so-great evil baby movie. More thoughts forthcoming.

No comments: