Catching Up

Movie reviews also available in new easy-pour squeeze bottleCrunch mode or no, Netflix still keeps taking my money, so I’ve got to stay on top of the latest in years-old movies I never got around to seeing while they were still relevant. And if you’re horrified at the thought that I’ve been watching movies and not putting my opinions of them up on the internets, then you’ll be relieved to see this post. Although I hate to steal from Lore Sjöberg and Entertainment Weekly, I’ll give each of them a letter grade.

I’d never actually seen this movie, so I used the Rifftrax as an excuse to watch it. I guess I must’ve missed the sell-by date, because I just don’t get how this movie spawned such a huge following. The Rifftrax guys try their best, but most of the jokes all come down to one fact: the movie’s just not that scary. I don’t even see how it was that scary in 1978, because there are plenty of scenes in Psycho and The Birds that are a lot worse on shock value alone, much less quality-of-filmmaking. Movie on its own: C. With Rifftrax: B.

The Wicker Man
Another one I watched because of Rifftrax. And I guess you have to give them credit for trying, but they still couldn’t make this pile of crap watchable. It really is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. You may get the impression from “Best Scenes from The Wicker Man that those scenes are just the tip of the iceberg, and the whole movie is full of so-bad-it’s-good laughs. Don’t be fooled! It’s incredibly stupid, tedious, and just a total waste of time. It’s not even made interesting by its misogyny; it’s more like being trapped in a long conversation with a boring, self-important guy who has issues with women. I don’t like to turn my opinion about a movie into a personal attack on the creators, but I really hope this ends Neil LaBute’s career. The movie: F-. With Rifftrax: F.

Clerks II
A lot of lame, a joke that seems like it has potential (Jay doing the Jame Gumb bit from Silence of the Lambs) until it goes too far (he does the full frontal bit — yeah, we got the joke like five minutes ago), then a lot more lame. And then one great, genuinely funny moment: “Oooh, cake!” And then more lame. So in other words, it’s another Kevin Smith movie.C

Stranger Than Fiction
Not bad. It’s not as good as I thought it was going to be, or as good as the concept promises, but it’s got plenty of nice moments. You get the sense that this was somebody’s dream project, since it went overkill on the casting and the special effects (gratuitous graphics that are neat but unnecessary). In the end, it’s just not quite as deep or meaningful as it makes itself out to be. B

School of Rock
You’ve got Jack Black and a bunch of child actors. That’s a great start, but there’s got to be a way to make your movie more annoying. Cast Sarah Silverman as the uptight authority figure villain. Good, keep going. Give it a plot cribbed from Meatballs and The Bad News Bears and about 1,000 other Hollywood take-on-the-establishment movies from the 70s and 80s. Getting warmer… Make it not funny enough that you can ignore the plot, but make the plot so vapid it makes the message of Disney features seem deep and insightful? Almost there, but keep at it! Have the lead go on about how kids today are completely ignorant of any art created more than 5 years ago, and then steal a joke from Annie Hall. Congratulations! You’ve just perfectly described a movie that’s so inessential, it’s downright offensive! D+

Little Miss Sunshine
This is an independent movie. From the Fox Searchlight opening, to the dysfunctional family dinner establishing scene, to the shots of blue sky through a freeway overpass, to having two characters giving a movie-summary dialogue on a pier overlooking the ocean — there’s not much more they could’ve done to assert their indie cred short of casting Parker Posey. It’s not bad, it’s just completely unsurprising and forgettable.

Sure, it’s got better performances and a slightly smarter script than your “average Hollywood movie,” whatever that is. But do we really need yet another movie with the message to love your family despite their flaws and to be true to yourself? At this point, making a movie that says “don’t conform to other people’s expectations” is probably the most conformist thing you can do. If National Lampoon’s Vacation and Napoleon Dynamite didn’t already exist: B- Because they do: C-

Children of Men
I only saw one of the movies nominated for best picture last year (see above), but I can’t imagine any of them were better than Children of Men. On a pure technical level, it’s awe-inspiring. There hasn’t been another movie in recent memory that so consistently made me think, “I would never, ever be able to do anything like this.” Film students are always instructed to revere the long tracking shot at the opening of Touch of Evil, but Children of Men has at least four of them, and those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. And they weave in and out of buildings, past explosions, in speeding cars attacked by guerilla fighters, and through apartment complexes in a barrage of gunfire.

It’s astounding, and what’s more, none of it is just movie wankery. Alfonso Cuarón says in one of the documentaries that he wanted the movie to be filmed in a realist style. That one decision meant an incredible amount of work, and it was the perfect decision. You’re never for one second given the chance to believe that what you’re seeing isn’t really happening. That clarity of vision goes through the whole movie; every decision made was the right one. And the real genius is knowing how and when to incorporate the surreal into the hyper-realism — the Pink Floyd pig floating above a factory, a deer wandering through an abandoned school, or a rowboat alone on a fog-covered ocean — those images stand out as if they’d been fired directly into your cerebral cortex.

The movie was so technically well-made, in fact, that it didn’t have to convey its message as well as it does. Even calling it a “message” sounds trite. It’s more of a feeling, a reminder that even in a world of horror and despair, a world where the dysfunction is so big and complex and omnipresent you believe there’s no way to fix it, there’s always hope. And it conveys this idea not with a crucial plot point, or a character’s monologue summing everything up 2/3 of the way through the movie before the final climax, but by putting you through hell and showing you the way out. If I were one of the Academy voting people, I would be downright ashamed not to have picked this as the best movie of last year. A+