Friday, March 29, 2013

Netflix un-suggestion of the week: The Giant Mechanical Man

Imagine yourself walking into a coffee shop at 11:00 on a Tuesday. There's a bearded hipster in his early 30's sitting in a chair near the window.  He's wearing a Smith's T-shirt. He doesn't work there. He probably doesn't work anywhere. He's reading a local arts newspaper, and has a copy of No Exit sitting on the table for later. Maybe he gives you the stink eye for using a disposable coffee cup.

Have you ever wanted to know what that guy thinks of the entire human race?

Well, look no further.  That guy wrote and directed a movie, and that movie is available on Netflix Streaming: The Giant Mechanical Man.

Unfortunately, there are a LOT of actors that I adore in this movie, so it sucked me in. Jenna Fischer, Chris Messina, Malin Akerman, Bob Odenkirk... but seriously, it's so bad. The only odd-man-out was Rich Sommer.  He had a very small side part, but for some reason, he stole every scene he was in. I think he was supposed to be a generic stooge, but he just seemed like a really sincere, nice guy.  It was surprising amid the rest of the characters' cavalcade of cliches.

The main characters reek of clinical depression. Every non-main character is both an asshole and completely vapid. TV-watchers are bad. Job-havers are stooges. Semi-unemployable "artists" with terrible relationship skills are noble, and their only problems are that they are misunderstood, and want them to conform to the rest of the sad, meaningless existence which is society.

I could have written this in one of my more melodramatic phases of puberty. It's completely obnoxious and self-important. Even the "cute" romantic-comedy scenes were depressing and no one really learns anything, or grows in any way.  Barf.  It was horrible. Bad writing. Terrible pacing. Scenes that were just kind of mushed together.

And yeah, I'm sure there's a super hot 35 year old dude working as a janitor at a zoo somewhere, and he DOESN'T have a crippling drug habit.  That's totally a real thing that happens in life.

This movie had nothing interesting to say, but tried to say a lot. Save yourself an hour and a half, and just punch yourself in the face a few times.  It will be more enjoyable.

Peggy's Rating: One out of Five Stars.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

12. War Witch

I was really disappointed in this movie. I'm just going to come right out and say it at the top. It is getting tons of acclaim, and winning awards, but for me, this movie represented something I find to be very sad and disconcerting.  How do I explain my feeling... ok...

War Witch is a movie about somewhere in Africa, where everyone seems to be warmongering for an unknown reason (fighting either for or against "the government"), which was written and directed by someone in Canada. This movie is full of vague mysticism, witchery, magic, rape, gun violence, poverty and drug use. 

Why is this the undercurrent of EVERYTHING we see about Africa? 

Africa is this big amorphous blob where every country is the same, they are all uneducated, all violent, all money-hungry, all superstitious, all deeply scarred. 

My dream is that someday, there's a movie that is written by a non-African, that is set in Africa, where the people portrayed are average, funny, dealing with normal day-to-day problems, working, going to school, etc. Because there are movies and stories by Africans, and a lot of them are about these kinds of things. 

I went to a play in Ghana, written by a well-known Ghanaian playwright, that was all about this man who had grown up in Ghana, but went abroad to the UK for school, and then came back, and had affairs, and a bumbling, corrupt police officer was trying to extort money from him.  It was really funny, and had a Ghanaian-identified set of problems. 

War Witch was written with no specificity, which tells me that this filmmaker, and many people probably, think of all of Africa like this. I mean, there was even a scene where the two main characters stole some clothing from a laundry line, and the old grandma sleeping nearby woke up, and CHASED THEM WITH A MACHINE GUN. 

Seriously? Grannies in this generic "sub-Saharan" country sleep clutching machine guns and then shoot them at children over a couple of t-shirts?

What is going on here? Why do we need Africa to be this terrifying? Does that say something about our zeitgeist? Are we writing off an entire continent?

There are places in Africa which have had some serious shit go down, yes. But that is not all of Africa. If that's a story you want to tell, why not go get a true story? Tell something that means something real, so that we can walk away from the movie with some kind of meaning, other than "Africans are all crazy." Honestly, that's the message I walked away from this with.  

And I think that's a sad, untrue message.

Sorry to get so un-funny. But for reals. Africa is awesome, and beautiful, and annoying, and chaotic, and full of people that range from boring to obnoxious, from peaceful to violent, from superstitious to skeptical and scientific, from wise to foolish, just like every other place on earth. They deal with problems both big and small, and have complex ideas about the world around them. I just think it's sad that movies set in Africa only paint one type of picture.

But, if that idea doesn't bother you, then you can find some well-acted performances by the cast. The cinematography was too shakey-cam for me, but some people like that style.  

Peggy's Rating: Two out of Five Stars

11. Quartet: Beware the many, many spoilers

I have to spoil this movie in order to express my opinion about it. It can't be helped, so if you are worried about me ruining this movie for you, stop reading. Seriously. I'm about to tell you what happens in the end...


This movie can seriously bite me. It's one big, long, slow tease of this big... wait for it... QUARTET.  AND THEN YOU NEVER GET TO SEE THE GOD DAMN QUARTET. Seriously. Despite the actors' mouths being open in this photo, they never actually sing anything. If I had been holding a super big gulp in my hand at the end of this movie, I would have thrown it straight at the screen.

What a giant waste of time.

The story of the relationships between the characters was fine. All four of the main actors were wonderful to watch. But it was essentially about four of the most brilliant opera stars ever, who NEVER FUCKING SING. Lots of other characters in the movie sing, which is totally delightful. But there was this whole theme about how Maggie Smith's character had stopped singing because she could never be as good as she was when she was young, and how the other characters convinced her to sing for the love of opera, and because this quartet was part of their history together as friends, and Maggie Smith watches all these other people perform without the fear of critics hanging over her head. AND THEN YOU NEVER SEE HER SING THE DAMN SONG. Sooooo... there's zero payoff.

They do, however, play a recording of the quartet from Rigoletto that is clearly sung by professional opera singers in their prime. Totally not the point of the movie. The movie was about the courage to perform imperfectly. And it totally failed to show these four people doing that.

And, of course, I assume this is because those four actors aren't opera singers, and were never opera singers, and would never in a billion years be able to pull off the quartet. But... maybe then they should have cast OPERA SINGERS. Jesus. What a terrible way to end this movie.

Also, at the beginning of the big gala concert that this entire movie builds up to, there is a scene that is essentially a throw-away character giving one of those LONG, totally boring pre-concert speeches, where they ramble on and on about thanking people who contributed, and talking about where the proceeds go to. Seriously. I never even want to hear those speeches LIVE.  What a terrible, terrible scene. If I had been in that room, and I had been holding a super big gulp, I would have thrown it at that character to get her to stop talking.

The rest of the movie was just wonderful. Really. But then it totally just vomits in its own lap.


The only redeeming part was seeing all of the actors' photos from their operatic, musical, or theatrical works from their youth. That was pretty awesome.

But seriously. This movie can bite me.

Peggy's Rating: Three out of Five Stars.  (Could have been a four, but there was no quartet.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Impossible

I can't figure out why I hadn't heard more about this movie!  The Impossible is currently out in theaters, and Naomi Watts was nominated for an Oscar for her role. And honestly, I didn't even know what this movie was about.

I heard ZERO about it.

If you are like I was, let me enlighten you, hopefully without ruining anything. This movie is based on the true story of a family on vacation in Thailand during the Tsunami of 2004 that devastated much of southeast Asia. And... that might be all I can say without ruining anything.

This movie was terrifying. The images were haunting and anxiety-producing without being overly grotesque or cliched. The cinematography was simply amazing.  It was hard to believe that some of it wasn't actual tsunami footage.

The story had a simple overall concept with small details that made it intimate and emotionally authentic. And, for a disaster movie, it left me feeling surprisingly uplifted.

Naomi Watts is basically brilliant in everything she's ever done. Even in her Ashley-Judd-Esque roles, she's more interesting than most other actresses would be. But in a role like this, she really was amazing.

Ewan McGregor played the father of the family in this story, and he was awesome. And, I think he finally grew into his face. He has always been kind of ugly-cute, but now he's just straight-up handsome. And it was nice to see him in something with this type of realism. He was really engaging.

I really just want more people to see this movie! I have no one to talk to about it.

I really love this kind of man-vs-nature movie. I'm not really sure why, because in real life, I tend to avoid nature at all costs. Let's face it: Being outside is for Hobos.

But in movies, I love watching people try to survive. In movies like The Edge, The Grey, or 127 Hours, it's just amazing to watch people find their limits. I feel like my limit would be REALLY low.

I don't even like to sit on the ground.

I'd be like - There are no chairs?  Ummm.  I'm just going to let this bear eat me and get it over with.

But then, I also really like stories like Into the Wild, where people intentionally go out into a less-pre-structured world and try to find their own way. Dances with Wolves has that kind of appeal.

I love those movies.

But, The Impossible isn't all man-v-nature. It's also about people stepping up in times of crisis and reaching out to their fellow humans across cultures and language barriers.  It's pretty amazing to think about how selfless people can be. That alone makes this movie worth watching.

Peggy's Rating: Five out of Five Stars

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Skyfall: Action Movie Cliche Central

So, I realize that I'm WAY too late for the party, but I finally watched Skyfall today!

Not only was Daniel Craig all shirtless and steamy, but they managed to color-correct his steely blues up about 2000%. Bravo, filmmakers.

There was so much gay sexual tension in this movie. It was glorious. Maybe it was what I'm referring to now as the Double-Oh-Gay-Sexual-Tension scene, but also there was nary a boob to be found in this entire movie. Even the obligatory way-too-long animated sequence lacked a certain amount of expected boobage.

My favorite part about this film is that it is basically a sequence of my favorite action movie cliches. From beginning to end, expected setups abound. I shall provide examples, hopefully without spoiling anything!

I mean, frankly, you've seen every part of this movie a thousand times before, so there's not much to spoil, but it's still fun to go through:

1) Jumping a motorcycle through a tall window - So cutting edge, the muppets were spoofing it in 1981!

2) Hand-to-Hand combat on a moving train - Here's a special screening of Skyfall's storyboard for this sequence:

3) Shooting at a door to unlock it: Mythbusters even took this one on.

4) Fire that can't turn corners. This dog, and James bond can both outrun explosions.

5) Nameless Henchmen being killed in ridiculous ways (e.g., being eaten by animals)

Now, in this movie, James references but doesn't actually USE his ejector seat.  I wonder if that will be in the deleted scenes!  I can't wait to find out.

You know, maybe all this nonsense was intentional.  This movie did have a totally mustache-twisty Villain, and utterly dispensable females.  Also, there were several totally lame Bond One Liners. Ugh.

You know, even though this movie was derivative and semi-pointless, I still dug it. But... I'm a James Bond fan, so it's really not hard to please me. I even liked both the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan eras, as much as I hate to admit it.

But, come on James, get your shit together.

Peggy's rating: Three out of Five Stars.