It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Everyone, at least on occasion, needs a reminder that they aren’t alone and that their problems and fears aren’t as bad as they think. This film does a fabulous job of turning a 16 year old’s angst into everyone’s self-doubts and provides the backdrop to gain perspective. And, it manages to do this without getting too overly sentimental. I suspect, also, that this is one of those wonderful films that will mean different things to everyone depending on when they watch it. I’ve already bookmarked it in my mind to rewatch it again in a year to see what I get from it then.

The main character is played by Keir Gilchrist, from The United States of Tara, and he brings the same wonderful guilessness to this role. You can’t help but feel for the kid or feel kinship with him. We’ve all been there, and through his self-doubt, we get to grow.

While this film isn’t perfect and it relies on the occasional cliche, the telling of the story is engaging and, at times, outright hilarious. And always, it remains honest to itself. In many ways, it is part of a new wave of films from younger directors that have come up with similar approaches in 300 Days of Summer (review on this appears lost), Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and even Kick-Ass, to name a few. Not that any of these are appropriate, direct, references, but it wouldn’t be out of order to watch it as a double feature with any of them stylistically. And, in the cass of 300 Days of Summer, it probably is even thematically well-linked.

I’m Baaack… for now

Recovery and work took way more out of me this week than I expected, and staying awake in a darkened room was not going to happen. So, clearly, not many reviews in the last week and a half. But, doing much better now and hoping to be back to a movie-a-night, or nearly, for at least the next week. After next week there may be some more interruptions due to other obligations and other issues.

I beg your indulgence on the potential gaps in posts through the next several weeks, but I’ll do my best to keep the commentary going. Heck, I enjoy the discussion!

Monsters

I had been hearing about Monsters for many months, and if you haunt AintItCool, you probably had as well. Though there were hopes and, after a long while, a distributor, the big invasion never happened and the movie sort of died quietly.

Much like District 9, this movie has a unique and decidedly independent feel. What does that mean? For District 9, this boiled down to subject matter, approach, and story structure; it still had a ton of action and explosions and a relatively large budget in comparison. In the case of Monsters, certainly lower production values and a smaller cast adds to its indie feel. But, it doesn’t mean it has a smaller canvas… the movie was shot all over Central America and in the US. But more so than District 9,  it focuses on characters rather than spectacle. The movies are really quite different, but the sensibility and how they fill in the world is similar and it is what makes them both great science fiction.

The world we inhabit for the length of this story is set up by some front titles and then we’re dropped into the aftermath of an attack. But rather than focus on the aliens or the blood or the whys or the action, the story immediately becomes a microcosm of two people, around whom the world was irrevocably changed by the events of 6 years ago when an Earth probe broke up over Mexico. We get the world through glimpses in the background, TV stories playing at screen edge, and in watching children play. It is the classic writer’s rule of “show, don’t tell” as well as taking an event and applying to the world to see how it would change.

Now, lest you think I’m saying this flick is perfect, it isn’t. Some of the dialog is painful and one moment should have been utterly rewritten as it became a polemic. And the sad part is that the movie, which is really more a metaphor, had and was making its point, but the writer and the director didn’t trust us to understand. In doing so, one of the most powerful moments and views in the film is deflated into a teeth-grinding exchange between our two characters. Despite the gaff, the general intent and success of the film is also what great science fiction can do… provide perspective and make you think about the word in a very different way by giving the reader/watcher distance from today.

So, if you’re in the mood for something a little different and not full of a lot of explosions and special effects, but you want some good story telling and to see something in a way it is rarely presented, check it out.

Life intervenes

This past week has been … interesting.

On Wednesday I slipped in the shower performing a spectacular 1/3 back flip to clip the bottom edge of my skull on the lip of the tub. I didn’t see stars, but my fingers did go numb and then tingly for a very short bit. Unfortunately, that aspect of the fall determined the next step (according to the on-call nurse Eve spoke to first), which was call 911 and get me in an ambulance. This was not the news I wanted to hear, but I knew better than argue and, frankly, I wasn’t feeling that great.

About 5 minutes later 2 EMTs showed up. Followed by 4 firemen. Followed by 2 ambulance drivers. My only thought, as it was 6am, was, “thank god no one turned on their lights and sirens.” I was determined to not need a backboard and was allowed to walk out of the house, but had to get on the gurney for the trip. Getting onto the gurney I remarked, “You know guys, this was not on my bucket list.” I actually got a laugh. Yes, folks, I’ll be here all week.

So an ambulance ride later, while watching my neighborhood recede in the back window during rush hour, I was in the ER. And about an hour after that, all was thought to be fine. No obvious concussion. No obvious brain bleed. I was allowed to leave. So, what do I do? I get Eve to take me to work for 3 meetings I didn’t think I could miss. Nope, I wasn’t really thinking clearly yet. So I did the first 2 meetings and in the middle of the third, I about collapsed and had to cut it short.

Next was the pharmacy for meds to keep my muscles loose. Then home, where I stayed for the rest of the week working from there as I was able. The meds made that part rather easy. Everything was pretty shiny. As of today, I’m trying to get off everything, but Tylenol. So far, not so easy, but we’ll give it a bit.

So, haven’t been watching much in the way of movies as turning out the lights would put me to sleep, and I really hate watching a movie with the lights on. Hoping that we’ll get to the 3 queued up films this weekend, but Dragon Age 2 released this week. It is in our hot little hands, and it is demanding to be played. So, we shall see. Just thought I should cover the gap in movie review coverage for this week. I’m way off my game, but I’m getting better fast.

Shameless (BBC) Season 1

This was a tough one for me. As much as I truly enjoy Skins (UK version) and The Misfits (which few in the US have seen), I found this utterly unappetizing. All the more surprising to me as it was highly praised by BAFTA and recommended by friends and family.

So, what is the difference here with other similar shows of self-destruction and less-than-proud families? I think, mainly, that despite there being a couple of characters I was sort of interested in, none made me care enough to come back. I just don’t enjoy mocking people or watching people mess up their lives due to stupidity. That just angers me, especially when you don’t see any changes in them over time; I didn’t see that possibility in most of the family members in the show. They all just get by in their own ways. They are fiercely independent and strong, but they are also in their own way and proud of it. That last bit is probably what soured me the most. Perhaps there is a change coming, certainly there was potential, but it looked so far off that I wasn’t willing to sit through the pain of getting there with them.

While well acted, directed, and believably written, you had to have a train wreck mentality to enjoy it. And, I feel compelled to add, if you are going to have nudity in a show, make it worthwhile! Just, yikes! Some folks really will watch and enjoy this series for reasons I’ve mentioned and others I probably don’t recognize. You may even be one of them and that’s OK. This was not a pleasant experience on any level for me and it didn’t get me past the first episode.

Merlin-Season 2

While we watched the first season of this show, we walked away from it until we’d heard it had been renewed for a 3rd season. OK, we were intrigued. It got better? We should find out. However, while this is perfectly watchable silliness, pretty actors do not make up for rather poor writer. Even Tony Head isn’t making up for it… and he’s who got us to the show in first place.

To be fair, this season did get better than the first. The plots are less saccharine and less obvious. The characters are starting to change and the variations on the myths are less frustrating. But it is still pretty much Saturday morning level fare.

That isn’t to say if it were on streaming or happened to be on the tube we wouldn’t waste 45 min, but I don’t think we’ll be queuing up the rest of the discs for this season.

Death Note L: Change the World

The Death Note series is a guilty pleasure, but not unworthy of your time. There are a couple of versions, but I’ve only seen the live action and have no interest in the animation (though some day may pick up the original manga).

This last, and one presumes final, installment of the live action took advantage of a narrow slice of time provided at the end of of the second film, Death Note: The Last Name and spins out a yarn for L, the oddest of the characters in the series. It isn’t an origin story as much as a behind-the-scenes story. That in itself is intriguing as you spend the first two films wondering, as Light/Kira does, “who the heck is this guy?” (Not to go all Butch Cassidy on you.)

But this film, while very different than the first 2 in the series, retains its quality and has some fun. It isn’t as believable, if you can even apply that to the other movies. This last installment is more about the character and his motivations and reasons. But that overplays the depth of the story. It is simply an international thriller with the world at stake. Nothing you haven’t seen before, but definitely populated with characters I’ve not seen anywhere else.

If you enjoyed Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name (who’s review apparently bit the dust in the Netflix to Facebook ether that drove the creation of this blog), you’ll enjoy this gift from the filmmakers.

Never Let Me Go

This quiet, English, alternative history movie is surprising in both its subtlety and tenor. But for a few changes, it is like almost every English drama tempered by politics and class. Whether you look at Foyle’s War, Bleak House, or the more recent Any Human Heart. This is a coming of age story in an age that never was, but that could still be.

Deftly acted by some of my favorite new performers, Carey Mulligan being the top line here for me, it has the approach of a drawing room romance with a Japanese aesthetic.  The typically rich world is brush-stroked with indicators about the world outside the gated school and protected lives of the main characters. These aspects are done without comment or expectation, but they provide a wealth of thoughts to the watcher. The pace is steady but slow. The stakes high, but not life threatening. Well, not exactly.. let’s say that the threat against life is just accepted. The story carries you along in a sort of sheep-like stupor, which is oddly appropriate. Which isn’t so say that the emotions are not intense, they just are handled without strum and drang.

At its core, the story is driven by love and, despite its ultimate outcomes, remains positive if questioning. I have not read Ishiguro’s book on which this was based, and though it has remained in the tower of paper by my bed, it has definitely moved up the pile now. After which, I intend to watch this again to see what I intuited and what I missed and what may not have survived the transplant to screen.

Buried

Every once in a while you watch and recommend a movie simply for the skill it required. This fits that category and won’t likely disappoint on entertainment value either. I got to it thanks to notice it gathered from Ain’t It Cool (non-spoiler and spoiler reviews), and for that I’m grateful, as I would have otherwise missed this one.

Reynolds does a very credible job of acting out what is an okay script and story. Perhaps it is just that I found the surprises few and the minor characters annoying more than engaging that I feel this way, but my reaction to the story itself was luke-warm. It felt more like a stunt and a tad of a polemic. However, I was never bored.

For 90 minutes, the director managed to keep the movie interesting, despite taking place solely in a 6′, buried coffin. Through clever light ploys and angles, we get the claustrophobia and the tension but never really get bored with watching Ryan’s character or his surroundings. And, in most cases, it is so subtle, that you don’t even realize what he was doing, which only raised my opinion of him. The sound engineering is likewise impressive to put you underground with Reynolds.

So turn off all your lights to watch this one. Really feel and appreciate it for all you can. If the story misses, think about what you saw and how you experienced it without all those panoramas and explosions that most movies rely on to keep you going.

Goodbye Lover

More of a well done TV movie than a big screen event, but entertaining in its twisted way. In fact, this movie is so cynical, it makes me look Pollyanna. With a surprising cast and a wish to twist all memories of The Sound of Music into something less saccharine — a desire I can completely understand having performed in the show and seen it far too many times — it is worth the watch if you’ve got nothing better on tap or just want something a tad different than primetime is offering.

Art, writing, life explained… or at least commented upon…