Sunday, May 22, 2011

The 30-Day Movie Challenge, Part 2

Part One is here, Part Two is down there!

6. A Movie That Makes You Sad -- Avatar
I'm not sad about the fact that this movie made umpteen bazillion dollars, since if people want to see a film just because it's visually impressive, that's as good a reason as any. I'm not sad about the fact that this film started the 3-D craze, a.k.a. an excuse for theatres and studios to charge you even more to see their product, since at the end of the day you still have the choice to just *not* see it in 3-D. I'm not even sad about the fact that 'Avatar' is a pretty bad movie, since there are a lot of bad movies and at least my pals and I spent the three (ugh) hours cracking jokes about the low quality.

What makes me sad about 'Avatar' is that James Cameron spent several years of his life and hundreds of millions of dollars on special effects, and about 20 minutes and 20 bucks on the script. It's sad that a director who claims to be so ambitious is solely focused on film as a visual medium, and nothing else. When a Steven Spielberg or a David Lean makes an epic, they also make sure that they have a story worthy of such an epic scope. At the end of the day, 'Avatar' was just a wasted opportunity.

7. A Movie That Makes You Happy -- The Sandlot
My own childhood baseball-playing career was pretty unmemorable. Let's just say I was so bad that the highlights of my house league career were once faking being hit by a pitch to reach base, leading my team in sacrifice bunts for about six straight years, and, oh yeah, the one year I was actually cut. From a HOUSE LEAGUE TEAM.

Needless to say, I sympathized quite a bit with Scotty Smalls in the beginning of the film, and though that's about where the comparisons between my life and the lives of the Sandlot kids end, it's impossible to watch this film and not get nostalgic, even if it's for a childhood you didn't actually have. For example, my friends and I never had to worry retrieving a home run ball from a monstrous dog, but that's because none of us ever went yard in the first place. Man, maybe we all sucked.

Fun fact: did you know they actually make two straight-to-video Sandlot sequels? None of them feature any of the major original cast members, and one of them involves, I kid you not, a time-traveling Luke Perry. I have not seen either of these films, since I suspect they are not movies that will make me happy.

8. The Most Disappointing Movie -- Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
I had to at least think about most of these entries, but this one took about two seconds. Indy 4 was such a letdown. The years of rumours weren't entirely promising (George Lucas wants to put a sci-fi spin on things? Harrison Ford is worried he's getting too old? There's going to be a "younger" Indy to set the table for future spinoffs once Ford is indeed too old?), but still, this was an Indiana Jones movie. "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" were two of the best action-adventures ever made and uh, for the purposes of this paragraph, pretend that "Temple of Doom" was about 30 percent better. SURELY Spielberg, Lucas and Ford would hit upon a magic formula to make the long-awaited fourth installment live up to the rest of this legendary franchise.

And...nope. It's never a good sign when you can just cite various failed scenes in short-form, each of which elicits a groan. Try saying "CGI vine-swinging" or "nuked fridge" to a hardcore Indy fan and watch him bury his face into his hands. And, the less said about goddamn Shia "Mutt Williams" LeBeouf the better. AND, even less said about whatever Cate Blanchett's awful character's name was the better. I do not get Cate Blanchett. The woman has no medium button. Either she's fantastic in a movie or else she gives the worst, rock-bottom performance you've ever seen. For every Notes On A Scandal, there's a Benjamin Button. For every Life Aquatic, there's her (inexplicably Oscar-winning??) role in The Aviator. For every Elizabeth, there's....well, there's Indiana Jones IV.

In short, pretend this movie never happened and that the Indy series concluded with Indy, his dad, Sallah and Marcus riding off into the sunset in 'Last Crusade.'

9. The Weirdest Movie You've Ever Seen -- Synecdoche, New York
Ostensibly, this film is about a theatre director who's directing an elaborate play about "real life" that eventually encompasses his actual life and the lives of his cast. But I feel that I'm just scratching the surface about what this strange, utterly unique movie is really all about. Charlie Kaufman's scripts are usually odd, but only odd in the sense that they're each set in their own particular universe full of particular rules (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, etc.) and once you get the 'rules,' per se, the film's world is fairly easy to understand. SNY, on the other hand, seems to change its universe every five minutes until you're not sure what you're seeing. Roger Ebert cited this movie as no less than the best picture of the 2000's, which is going a *bit* far for my taste, but it's still a thoroughly interesting experiment of a film. I'll stick to 'thoroughly interesting' over outright 'good' until I see it again.

I think I'd love to see a documentary about how this picture exactly got made and how Kaufman pitched it to a studio. I can see him expounding for an hour on the psychological levels of self, shaking hands with the executives and leaving the room, while the execs are all just like, "I have no idea what's going on here, but it's Kaufman, he'll figure it out."

I'm probably doing my film studies days a disservice by ignoring dozens of purposely-fucked up experimental shorts in favour of "Synecdoche, NY," which it at least recognizable as a film starring actors, performed from a screenplay, etc. But, then again, as my first-year film prof Mike Zryd would argue, the avant-garde might not really be "weird" at all, it's merely our perception of these films that is skewed, so yeah, sorry for leaving out the Stan Brakhage shorts, Dr. Zryd.

10. Favourite Male Character In A Movie -- Kanji Watanabe (played by Takashi Shimura in the film 'Ikiru')
It's kind of funny this entry came up on the so-called "Rapture Day," since Ikiru is all about recognizing your own mortality and taking judgement of your life. I think it's just about universal that anyone, if given a grim diagnosis as Watanabe does in the film, would think that their life has been incomplete. In Watanabe's case, he goes out of his way to make his final days productive in a way that only a mid-level city hall bureaucrat can. The brilliance of the story is that Watanabe's life doesn't have a Pollyanna ending -- he doesn't reconcile with his douchey son, he creeps out his female co-worker, and his other co-workers openly admit they didn't bother to know the man, nor Watanabe them. But still, Watanabe channels his energy into one thing, and he leaves a tiny legacy, but a legacy nonetheless.

Takashi Shimura was a chameleon of an actor who was a big favourite of Akira Kurosawa. Shimura appeared in over 20 of Kurosawa's films and took on a wide variety of roles. To use Kurosawa's most famous three films as an example, Shimura played the meek Watanabe in "Ikiru," the weird-ass woodcutter in "Rashomon" and the bad-ass samurai Kambei in "Seven Samurai." These are three very different characters, yet Shimura is terrific in every part. Truly one of the all-time underrated actors.

This entry can also count as "Hey everyone, watch Ikiru once in your life."

11. Favourite Female Character In A Movie -- Marge Gunderson (played by Frances McDormand in the film 'Fargo')
If I'm ever brutally murdered in Minnesota, I hope Marge is investigating my death. Marge is one of the most perfectly likable characters one could ever hope to find in a film -- friendly, quietly outgoing, funny in an aunt sort of way, and of course, awesome at her job. If we ever had some kind of alternate-reality Coen movie crossover, she's the only one who could take down Anton Chigurh, unless the Dude's bumbling antics got in her way. (p.s. I would pay $100 for a ticket to this movie.)

The genius of 'Fargo' is that the Coens establish this farcical setup and out-of-world setting (their Minnesota is some weird, polite hybrid of Minnesota, Sweden and Canada) but then they totally ground their story through the character of Marge. Her detecting competence is what underlines the fact that these deaths are actually happening and it's serious business, not just a clothesline for jokes about wood chippers and regional accents. It is awesome that Frances McDormand won the Oscar for playing Marge; truly one of the most well-deserved Oscars in Academy history.

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