Movie Mini-Reviews

I’ve been both ill and snowed-in this week.  Therefore, I’ve seen a few movies of late.  Here are some short thoughts.

Blue State ( 2007 ) Breckin Meyer is Bleeding Heart Liberal John, who promises on TV that he’ll move to Canada if Kerry loses the 2004 election.  He is joined by Anna Paquin as the cute but guarded Chloe.  John is more than a bit preachy, but luckily Meyer carries it off well — he’s annoying about his views, but in the disbelieving desperate way, that gets explained well throughout the film, and it captures the disbelief and despair of the time.  Anna Paquin plays cute but world-weary rather than falling into a Garden State-esque Manic Pixie Dream Girl role which is so common for romantic comedies.

100 Girls ( 2000 ) — Tries to examine the conflicting cultural factors surrounding gender in a feminist age, dating, and love.  College freshman Matthew (Jonathan Tucker) is trapped in a dark elevator of a girl’s dormitory and meets/sleeps with the ‘love of his life.’  In the morning, he is left with only a piece of her underwear.  Matthew spends the year trying to re-connect with the girl, learning and discussing with the camera topics like feminism, masculinity, gender, dating and love.   The discussions of gender and love make this more of a meta-romantic comedy, examining the process and the biases as the story plays out.  The end product is laudable for its effort if not the execution.

Kung Fu Panda ( 2008 ) Jack Black is the voice of Po, a panda who has grown up on legends of kung fu, but is stuck working at the family soup restaurant.  Meanwhile, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) eagerly awaits the appointing of the Dragon Warrior, a prophesied hero who will be entrusted with the ultimate kung fu secret.  His students, the Furious Five (Tigress, Monkey, Viper, Mantis, Crane–the five animals of five animal kung-fu) vie for the honor and the burden of the role.  When Po is revealed as the Dragon Warrior, Po learns the difficult truth of Kung Fu and the other martial artists re-think their preconceptions as Tai Lung (former disciple of Shifu) escapes his prison and returns for vengence and the Dragon Scroll.  Kung Fu Panda is a rare film that succeeds as both an Anthropomorphic Animal Comedy and a Kung Fu Movie.  Black is more lovable than annoying, and the moral lessons throughout are clear but not annoying.  An unexpected gem of a film.

The Dark Knight ( 2008 ) Christopher Nolan’s vision of Batman returns as Batman (Christopher Bale) is trapped in an escalating conflict between the Joker (Heath Ledger) and White Knight District Attourney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckart)–who is dating Bruce’s former beau Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal).  Dark and tense, emotional and psychological, Ledger and Nolan give us one of the all-time most compelling versions of The Joker.  The Joker, Dent, and Batman pull and push one another, vying for the fate and soul of Gotham.  One of the best films of the year, and one of the best if not the best superhero film of the decade.

Smart People ( 2008 ) Dennis Quaid is Professor Lawrence Wetherhold, curmudgeonly widower English professor at CMU.  Ellen Page (of Juno fame) is his too-perfect teenage daughter Vanessa.  Balancing out these two is Thomas Haden Church as Lawrence’s adopted brother Chuck.  Chuck tries to lighten his family up, while Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), a former student of Wetherhold’s, tentatively makes advances.  Lawrence and Janet stumble through the early stages of romance while Chuck’s efforts to get Vanessa to loosen up escalate beyond his intent.  A contemplative study of people smart enough to be idiotic around other people and the more ‘normal’ people who love them.

Wristcutters: A Love Story ( 2006 ) Surprisingly uplifting for a story about the limbo-world where suicides go to live out some kind of purgatorial life.  Patrick Fugit is Zia, who kills himself after being dumped by his beloved Desiree (Leslie Bibb).  Zia is joined by his fellow suicide Eugene on a cross-country quest for Desiree, who Zia learns has ‘offed’ as well.  They are joined by Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who would be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl if the suicide-world weren’t one completely bereft of smiles.  A stealth/slipstream speculative fiction story about depression, suicide, and finding hope in the depth of darkness.

Gray Matters ( 2006 ) A Coming-Out story wrapped in a Romantic Comedy.  Sam and Gray Baldwin (Tom Cavanagh and Heather Graham) are a joined-at the hip duo, actually brother and sister.  When they make efforts to find love and distinct lives, Sam meets Charlie and the two have a whirlwind romance that goes from meeting to betrothal in one date.  Gray and Charlie get on swimmingly as well–too well in fact, as Gray realizes she’s fallen in love with Charlie as well.  The Romantic Comedy between Sam and Charlie is really just the inciting incident for Gray’s own story of self-discovery, as she comes out to herself and then her family, learning to find the balance between maintaining her close relationship with her brother but also searching for love on her own.   More than a little cheesy, and mostly un-nuanced in its depiction of lesbianism, but it is one of many small steps towards normalizing GLBTQ culture in the US — Gray’s homosexuality is never condemned, but accepted by her family, work, and therapist — the conflict for Gray is with her own doubt, and in the confusion and hurt feeling between her and her brother.

In the hopefully-not-too-distant future, I want to do a Ethnographic/Cultural Studies project on romantic comedies and how members of Gen X/Gen Y use/are effected by Romantic Comedies in how they approach/consider love, gender, and romance.  This intention makes watching only-passable romantic comedies much easier/justifyable.

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