Tag Archives: movie review

Klown (2010)

15 Feb

klown coverI wasn’t a huge fan of Klown for several reasons, but I think that it’s because this is more of a dude’s movie. If you know me at all, you know I thrive on awkward, uncomfortable movies with weird sexual undertones or that break social taboos. This does all of that, but in a way that even makes me uncomfortable. I know! I thought it was impossible, too! But at least it is a comedy, and as such it comically exaggerates uncomfortable situations in a way that make me laugh half of the time, and cringe half of the time. The “pearl necklace” scene? Uncomfortably hilarious. The alleged rape references, uncomfortably upsetting.

But if you are not sensitive to hyper-masculine conversations, and you enjoy crass, awkward humor that is much akin to British humor, this movie will be right up your alley. The story mainly revolves around friends Frank and Casper who plan a “Tour de Pussy” canoe trip with the ultimate goal of spending an evening at a famous and exclusive brothel. Right before they leave, Frank finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant, and she is having doubts about Frank’s fatherhood potential. In order to prove he can be a good father, Frank drags his nephew (Bo) along for the trip, which severely pisses off the main proponent of the Pussy part of Tour de Pussy, Casper.

So ladies, despite this pink movie poster, it’s not as much a movie for us. Let the menfolk have their private sexist male bonding. I didn’t hate it, but it just wasn’t for me. And dudes, take note: this movie contains very informative instruction regarding “man flirting.”

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The Queen of Versailles (2012)

10 Feb

Welcome to the first edition of Documentary Sundays. For me, Sundays have always been good for sleeping in, eating brunch, enjoying mimosas and bloody marys (bloody maries?), and curling up on the couch to watch some of the myriad of documentaries in my netflix queue. Unfortunately, work obligations have cut into my early morning mimosas, but Sunday evening documentaries are still a time-honored tradition in my house. Won’t you join me?

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David and Jackie Siegel. And their taxidermied dog draped over the piano in the background. Yep. That classy.

This week’s DS doc is a guilty pleasure view of mine, The Queen of Versailles. It is basically one of those reality shows I always talk shit about, but as a whole movie, I somehow accept it. It’s one of those train wrecks that you can’t look away from. So please, take this recommendation with a grain of salt, and don’t expect to really learn anything from this documentary.

The Queen of Versailles has been called a “rags-to-riches-to-rags” story by critics, and I can’t think of a better or more clever way to explain it in a snappy tagline, so there you have it. This movie explores the rise and fall of David Siegel, the Father of the Timeshare. And when I say “fall,” the fall itself is still a work in progress. Siegel hasn’t quite hit rock bottom, but you may surmise that he isn’t quite done falling at the end of the documentary. You will most certainly look up his status in the business and financial world after you watch the movie.

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“Help. What do I do with this?”

You may be asking yourself, “if this movie is about David Siegel, why is it called the Queen of Versailles?” I wish I could tell you that in an attempt to save his failing business, Siegel throws the biggest French-themed drag show the world has ever seen. The truth is, in a nutshell, this title refers to Siegel’s wife, Jackie, and they are building a multi-million dollar mansion that is a replica of the palace at Versailles. Jackie is smart enough to get a computer engineering degree from MIT, but ditzy enough to do, well, all of the other things she does in this documentary. She has a gigantic litter of children that she doesn’t know what to do with, and clearly she and her husband both continue to pine for the days that she was Miss America. Jackie continues to feed her shopping addiction while David’s various resorts go belly-up and their bank account runs dry.

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Virginia Nebab, the Siegels’ nanny, stands in front of her “house,” on the property. And you’ll never believe what it used to be. Actually, you probably will.

So, a little something you might not know about me, I have my Master’s in International Studies. It may be for this reason that the most poignant element of this documentary is the storyline which follows the housekeepers and nannies of the Siegel household. I thought this documentary was going to be a huge joke, but the stories of these women who have lived thousands of miles away from home for decades to raise someone else’s children was just heartbreaking. It is not the ideal job, by any stretch of the imagination, but these women don’t complain. They just tell their stories point blank. I got anxiety listening to their sad stories just thinking about how David Siegel would probably fire them once he saw the documentary for making him look bad.

And even with all of that commentary, I haven’t even scratched the surface of The Queen of Versailles. So no worries, you have a lot to get out of watching this documentary. Just be sure to stock up on plenty of champagne and orange juice, because you’re going to need them it to dull the sting that is 21st century American capitalism, incarnate.

Adrift- À Deriva (2009)

8 Feb

Welcome to my new feature: Foreign Film Friday! I had been having a lot of trouble getting into foreign films as of late. I’m often multi-tasking while watching, which means I miss crucial bits of dialogue all of the time when I look away from the screen. Even in Spanish movies a couple of lines slip by me, which is unacceptable because I am a Spanish teacher.

So, I got an elliptical trainer a couple of months ago, and got it all set up in front of the TV. I started twerkin’ that ish after throwing on Brick when I realized I couldn’t hear anything over the whir of my badass workout. (It’s an old, rickety elliptical machine I got off Craigslist). Then it hit me. This is the perfect environment to start chipping away at all of those foreign films in my Netflix queue!

So far I have ellipticized my way through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Biutiful, Whores’ Glory, and The Red Balloon, but it wasn’t until I watched Adrift (À Deriva) that I thought I should use this as new routine as fodder for a new feature. And thus, Foreign Film Friday was born!

With that long-winded explanation of the genesis of FFF, I don’t have much breath left to write about Adrift, (and I’m sure your patience is running thin as well).
I’ll make it snappy…

adriftAdrift is a beautiful film set in a beachy Brazilian paradise. Perhaps the combination of a welcoming summer atmosphere, the nostalgic ’80s feel and the melodic sounds of Portuguese are what got me smitten on this film. I have to assume that all of the allusions to photography in the film are not by accident, as the cinematography often takes on an etherial, Poloroid, spilling-out-of-the-frame quality. And maybe they’re overdoing it with the amount of times they played it in the background, but I love this song.

You might like this movie if you: love Portuguese, beautiful Brazilian people and/or seascapes; were ever a 14 year old girl (as is the main character); enjoy movies that showcase the effects of infidelity; or would like looking at Vincent Cassel in a Speedo from time to time.

Oh, and, by the way… If you decide to watch Adrift, and no one is speaking Portuguese in the film you put on, it’s probably Open Water 2: Adrift, and definitely not the movie you should be watching, under any circumstances or at any time, I can assume.

Also, there are no subtitles in the trailer, so you can just stop here if you’re not up for that type of thing.

Django Unchained (2012)

6 Jan

ImageI am pleased to announce that, for this girl, Quentin Tarantino’s newest flick did not disappoint. Though can I really call a two-and-a-half hour cinematic romp through the Antebellum US a “flick?” Don’t go expecting anything other than a Tarantino flick, though, as would be my recommendation for all of his films forever and ever, amen. His budget gets bigger, the cinematography gets more lavish, the gore gets messier, but Tarantino films will always undeniably bear his seal of excellence and ridiculousness. You might find yourself getting swept away in serious moments of this spaghetti western revenge story, trying to convince yourself of its historical accuracy, but Tarantino always brings it back with crass or inappropriate humor, modern music, outrageously unbelievable violence and brazen characters. All of these I want, no, need, in his films. 

It’s no secret that Django Unchained is the story of a freed slave, Django (played by Jamie Foxx), who is on a mission to find and free his wife (name: Broomhilda!) from a Mississippi plantation. I feel as though I have been waiting for a movie like this: A US Civil War revenge tale that, while hyperbolically fabricated, gives a sense of victory, at least in one microcosmic sphere, over the disgusting history of slavery in the US. If only they could have cast Levar Burton as Django, we could have seen the real revenge of Kunta Kinte as I would have liked to see it. Image

I was positively enchanted by Dr. King Schultz, Django’s German “partner-in-anti-crime” throughout the film. It was also nice to see Christoph Waltz playing the role of a hero rather than a villain (see: Inglourious Basterds).  My inner graduate school student problematized the patronizing relationship between Django and Dr. Schultz (among a myriad of other issues). Nevertheless, just as important as my suspension of disbelief was my suspension in social commentary regarding their relationship.

ImageSamuel L. Jackson’s character, Stephen, was also a delight. This is not to say he was a lovable character, he was actually quite despicable, very comparable to Uncle Rukus from The Boondocks. But he played his despicability brilliantly (with the help of some makeup that rendered him practically unrecognizable as Samuel L.)

Django delivers on the cheesy and unrealistic violence you expect. It incorporates anachronistic tunes from Jim Croce, John Legend and others (à la Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette), which is a soundtrack strategy that I absolutely love. 

The strangest part of my whole Django Unchained experience was watching it in the South. Asheville may be an enlightened bubble here in North Carolina, but it still has its fair share of backwards-thinking good ol’ boys. I found myself cringing at the snickers of some of my fellow moviegoers at quite inappropriate moments. But it gave me great pleasure to see the representations of their racist ancestors slaughtered to pulpy bloody piles, so I hope that sentiment wasn’t lost on them. 

Loved the movie and would love to see it again. It is not for everyone, not even all seasoned Tarantino fans, but with a strong stomach and a sadistic desire to see a Roots revenge story as gory as the injustices that spurned the vengance, Django Unchained is worth shelling out the cash to catch at the theaters while it’s out.

A!

 

God Bless America (2011)

29 Aug

Your Netflix robot has been prodding you to watch it, so you might as well go ahead and do it. Written and directed by…Wait…Did I read this right? Bobcat Goldthwait? Well, apparently he has a bone to pick with Hollywood and modern day USA (not to be confused with 1990’s USA, an epoch in which he thrived in all its cheesy glory).

This is a film about two middle class misfits turned renegade killers who have had enough with the America that they have been fed and are ready to bring down some mofucs for their own enjoyment. And now to introduce our diabolical duo: Frank is a middle aged divorcee who has just lost his job and his mind, Roxy is a teenage girl who is pretty much just sick of monotony and being told what to do. She joins Frank after catching him doin some gangsta shit. I am still reeeeeaching for her motivation for joining him on his homicidal rampage, but maybe she just cray. Had I seen this movie in high school, I would have definitely looked up to her, however. I would have certainly named my ideal badass female antihero Roxy, that’s a given.

Take Harold and Maude and reverse it, blend with a little Natural Born Killers and sprinkle in a little Taxi Driver or Falling Down (you know, some anti-hero shit), and you will have a pretty good idea of the aim and feeling of God Bless America. In theory, I am all for the movie and the message, but in practice, it may have fallen just slightly short of the mark.

Frank and Roxy start offing idiots for reasons we can all relate to, (I mean seriously, who picks up their phone in the middle of a movie at the theatre?! Although it’s probably too soon to be making light of movie theatre shootings, eh?), but at the same time, they get a little preachy and even start knocking on some things that I can actually relate to (who doesn’t like a good high five every now and again?). 

After writing this review, I believe Frank and Roxy might want to pump me full of lead for using too many unnecessary parentheses. But then again, I think I am decent and polite enough to avoid their rage, and cheer them on as they shoot up a television audience.

I would see God Bless America again, and I might even consider buying it. I give it a B+. I like its ability to bash on modern media and society for doing things for the sake of being edgy and shocking, and at the same time falling into that same trap (shooting babies into bloody oblivion for crying too much?) I can relate to Frank and Roxy’s complaints for the most part, and don’t mind watching fictional characters go on a murderous rampage as a result. However, when the bells and whistles of modern media drill into your brain like an electric spike, the last thing you need is something to remind you of it.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

16 Jul

Wes Anderson has made some of my favorite movies of all time, and because of my profound love for them, he can do no wrong. He is the equivalent to a tenured professor in my directorial lineup, and his movies will always hold a special place in my heart. It is perhaps because of this attitude that I happily came out of the theater after seeing Moonrise Kingdom today, satisfied with my viewing experience. It may have also helped that Asheville Fine Arts Theater serves beer, which is always a welcome movie companion, but also far too rare at movie theaters showing new films.

You cannot discuss Wes Anderson without mentioning his eye-catching way of presenting setting, costume and props. Every scene is a beautiful stage front, set up so meticulously that your eyes drink up every square centimeter of the screen. I tumble into the world of the film when the long, slow, panning shots take you through a detailed and complex tour of the setting. When I first saw The Royal Tenenbaums, I was enamored with scenes like this one, where Margot Tenenbaum meets her brother at the bus station for the first time in years.

In The Life Aquatic, it was the beautiful way they presented the Belafonte, Steve Zissou’s boat. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, it was the intricate and adorable little props and costumes he used.

Moonrise Kingdom, unsurprisingly, carried on Wes Anderson’s attention to beautiful cinematography and a feel for a vintage-inspired detail. This made it so that even if the plot wasn’t capturing my full attention or making me fall in love with the characters, I was still wrapped up in Anderson’s world. All it takes is a little bit of nerdy Edward Norton and unexpected appearances from Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel to keep my attention and adoration for Mr. Anderson alive. (Although I think I speak for anyone and everyone when I say we all could have used some more Bill Murray in our lives throughout this movie).

I think that some may take issue to the movie for being a little “too cute,” which is undoubtedly why movies intended for an adult audience don’t often feature young children as main characters.  Anderson could have spent more time spent getting us connected with Suzy and Sam, our young love birds and the protagonists of the film. However, the flashbacks that did focus on a whirlwind tour of their separate pasts and  what drew these two misunderstood and somewhat neglected misfits together to plan to run away were some of my favorite parts of the whole movie. For me, a fanciful account of two tweens in love is still a little far from the world I know and relate to right now, even though I should probably just be drawing parallels between my world and theirs and leave well enough alone the literal story.

As I said, I still came out happy. I doubt I could ever come out of one of the worlds Wed Anderson has painted and not feel a little bit sunnier. From the awkward still shots of a character’s deadpan expression to the maps and charts and detailed accouterments that Anderson

I recommend that you see this movie. I would give it an A, I will buy it when it comes out, perhaps in a Criterion Collection format. Yeah, I said it… I think you will enjoy it, and it is definitely better than what else is going on out there at the theaters right now. Plus, I want Wes Anderson to make as many movies as possible so that he can continue to delight me with his whimsical filmmaking. So please give him more money so he can continue to pour it into meticulous set design and the like!

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Pulling John (2009)

8 Dec

Ok, quit your giggling, despite its humorously euphemistic title, Pulling Johnis actually a great documentary that doesn’t take itself too seriously but is still pretty entertaining on a subject that I never thought I would even be remotely interested in before: arm wrestling. Seriously. In addition to the fact that my scrawny stick arms would never get me through one round of arm wrestling, I am turned off in general by physical challenges of strength, even if I am not the one participating. Nonetheless, I found myself sitting rather enthralled through this documentary on an aging arm wrestling great, John Brzenk, and two up-and-coming competitors: Russian human steam-engine Alexey Voevoda, and Travis Bagent of West Virginia.

Alexey Voevoda

This documentary was very reminiscent of King of Kong in that it took its cast of quirky characters and really got us to…pull for them. Heh. With four years of footage and coverage under their belts, filmmakers Vassiliki Khonsari and Sevan Matossian make surprisingly in-depth profiles on Brzenk, Voevoda and Bagent. As most sports films go, the film builds up to a huge competition at the end, where the stories of these three titans of arm wrestling meet up to compete for an international title. Pulling John compels the viewer to watch until the nail-biting conclusion of who will emerge victorious. Did I mention we’re talking about arm wrestling here?

Travis Bagent

See Pulling John, you will be happy you spent an hour and a half learning about the unfamiliar world of arm wrestling (unless you are an enthusiast of Over the Top, starring Sly Stallone, in which case you will probably love this documentary even more). I give it an A.

I leave you with the clip that I found the funniest in the movie. I am sorry for the poor/choppy quality, but it is the only public domain footage I could find with this scene. Perhaps funnier in context, also check out the trailer here.

The Elephant Man

3 May

A recent trip allowed me to spend some quality time with a caring community that restored my faith in humanity. I had just experienced a week full of love, sharing and kindness that left me with the feeling that people aren’t just not-all-that-bad, but that we are all connected through love and all of our actions affect one another and we are capable of making great things happen, of changing the world, through this love. Why am I sharing this with you? Because then I saw David Lynch’s The Elephant Man for the first time, and it led me to think, “man…people are shit.”

Luckily, I have since shaken off the feeling of disappointment in humanity. However, the feelings of sadness associated with this movie will be with me for a while. This film is based upon the story of Joseph Merrick (John in the film), known as the Elephant Man, whose deformed appearance led him to be a freakshow attraction in England in the mid- to late-1800’s.

In the film, Merrick begins as the main attraction in a little sideshow with an abusive alcoholic “owner.” Due to repeated abuse, he is hospitalized, and Dr. Frederick Treves takes a particular interest not only in Merrick’s physical deformities, but his mental capabilities as well. While at first Merrick appears to be mute, it turns out that he is actually eloquent and intelligent. He becomes more of a revered celebrity than a sideshow attraction as high society takes an interest in this brilliant man who is at the same time so physically abnormal.

The true sadness in this film lies in the fact that Merrick comes to feel truly accepted and loved, only to be cast back down again into a pit of misery. Although a sad film, it is beautiful in a way that only David Lynch could have been responsible for. The themes are both timeless, yet modern, and the fact that it takes place in the 1800s and is shot in a way to make it look older really adds to the bizarre feeling that the movie gives you.

I believe that I am behind the times in getting to this movie, but better late than never. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s your turn now.

The Great Happiness Space (2006)

15 Mar

Subtitle: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief

I have been watching a lot of documentaries lately on Instant Queue, but this one struck me because there are a lot of intricacies to the story they tell that surprised me. It might be easy to write off some of the oddities of the accounts being told by saying that it is something that happens in a different culture. And while I don’t see exact parallels between the Japanese institution of the host club and something similar in US or “Western” culture, I still see many similarities that we all share as human animals who want love, but perhaps do not know exactly what that love is.

The Great Happiness Space opens a window for outsiders into the Host Clubs of Osaka Japan, and specifically on one of the most popular and lucrative ones, Rakkyo. Host Clubs are establishments (almost like bars) where men offer their company to women for very high prices. (Although there are probably equivalents to this for the homosexual community, this documentary did not address that at all). When a woman enters a club for the first time, she chooses her Host from the “Host menu,” and becomes his client. Women may choose from funny Hosts, or fashionable Hosts, outgoing Hosts, etc. These hosts entertain and accompany the women through karaoke, conversation, joke-telling and a lot of drinking and smoking.  The women pay an hourly price for the company of their Host, and in addition pay extremely steep prices for the drinks, especially champagne. Some women spend upwards of $7,000 per night (yes, that figure is in US dollars), and many women frequent these clubs 2-3 times per week.

While watching the film I found myself wondering what these women do for a living that can afford such lavish nights out on a regular basis. I figured that they must have some pretty amazing corporate positions that make them a lot of money but allow them no time for a boyfriend, which leads them to look for companionship through these clubs. About a third of the way through the film, they reveal that the majority of these women are in the same profession, and I was way off with my guess.

Hosts and clients are both interviewed and featured in this documentary, and their candid and open interviews offer a very honest look into the lives they both lead. The film left me feeling very sad, as I feel that there is a lot of confusion on both sides after years of spending ridiculous amounts of money, drinking their livers into a pulp, playing with emotions, putting up fronts, and trying to figure out who they really even are anymore. It reminded me how manipulative humans can be within love and relationships and especially when there is money involved and it is a job and not necessarily any kind of real or functional relationship at all.

I think this film is great, and I learned a lot from it. I love it when documentaries take you to a taboo or seldom-seen and unfamiliar place, and expose nearly every facet to such a space. However, it did leave me feeling a bit of heartache for the characters involved, who want to find love, or at least say they do, but seem to be unsure what that even means and where to find it. There was a lot of sacrifice of the self for the benefit of another without much reciprocation, and it really saddened me to see the ways that people manipulate one another and destroy themselves in the pursuit of happiness. This is something with which many of us are at least marginally familiar. I think it can bring a positive message to the viewer as well, to be aware of others’ behaviors and intentions before giving yourself over to another completely. I believe that there is a need for humans to trust and love one another, but until we are all on board with this sentiment, it is best to proceed with caution and love yourself first.

Sorry to get all philosophical or whatever that was.

I would watch it again, maybe I would buy it. I give it an A-.