Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Movie Wrap Up

The Visitor

Sometimes it just feels good to be in a movie theater again. It’s been a while since I felt compelled to go out, but seeing The Visitor had been on my list for a while, so I sucked it up. I even liked seeing that stupid Stella Artois ad again. A night in the theater is made even more satisfying when the movie is good. It seems to happen so rarely now.

The Visitor is the story of a widowed college professor in Connecticut who keeps an apartment in NYC that he rarely stays in, only to find that an immigrant couple have been living in it for a couple months. Now, having never lived in NYC, I’m not sure if that could actually happen, so I had to suspend belief somewhat, but the film is about the strongest I’ve seen all year. The immigrant couple (he’s from Syria, she’s from Senegal, both are illegal) are a couple of sweet kids who help to bring the professor out of his stupor. When the guy gets arrested and is held in a deportation cell, the professor is taken on an odyssey of, not only the ins and outs of the political and legal process for illegals, but on an emotional journey he never could have imagined.

One of my biggest pet peeves in movies are those quiet insular performances that are always seen as deep, when really they’re just stoic. Brooding is often empty. The prof is played by Richard Jenkins, a guy whose name you probably don’t know, but will recognize the second you see him. He’s one of those guys. While the role could have been nothing more than one of those empty performances, Jenkins infuses a lot of life and power in his persona. He deserves an Oscar nom. Then again, I just really like the guy.

My only issue with the movie is it’s overly sympathetic view of the treatment of immigrants. The message is mildly heavy handed. However, the performances and subject matter quell the preaching. And, it turned me on to Fela Kuti, whom I’m now obsessed with.

Score: 8

The Hulk

Not normally being a superhero fan (or Edward Norton, but more on that later), I can’t say I was dying to see The Hulk. However, Iron Man has managed to plant some optimism in me. That has now been extinguished again.

The Hulk is ridiculous. It’s loud, it’s boring, it’s nonsensical, and Norton is so badly miscast that there is almost nothing good about it. Let me put it this way, I like Speed Racer better.

Edward Norton is SOOOO overrated. People think he’s a great actor, but I tend to judge greatness on range and he has almost none. I think people mistake an innate intensity as good acting. Sometimes, it’s put to good use like in Primal Fear or American History X, but that’s about it. (I did love Keeping The Faith, but not because of him.) Truthfully, he has a weird voice, is very average looking (I mean, like nondescript average) and his head is shaped like an oblong football. He could have played the Crystal Skull in the Indy movie. It’s discomforting to watch him emote here.

I never saw the one from a few years ago, so I have no idea if it’s better or not. I can say Eric Bana was a much better choice for the lead. The special effects are cool, but the story is lame and the set up is invisible. You never get a sense of why Tim Roth becomes that other guy. It just happens as a device to push more CGI on us.

Score: 3

Kung Fu Panda

Not a lot to say about Panda. It’s cute, Jack Black is funny, the animation is sub Pixar, but still good and it goes by quickly.

My only beef is that there was no reason for Angelina Jolie to have a part. I like her a lot, but she didn’t have many lines and you would never know it was her if you hadn’t been told in the ads. Why pay her fee and not give her something interesting to do?

Score: 7

Bigger, Stronger, Faster

Best movie I’ve seen so far this year. It’s this year’s Super Size Me. It effectively pulls the veil away from, not just sports and steroids, but basic American ideals and exposes them for what they really are.

I’ve had such a deep hatred for steroids and the cheaters who use them, but the film shows me that they’ve been in use for years by almost everybody, including in the Olympics. Once you realize how rampant they are, how they have no noticeable side effects of any real danger, and that there are many other ways to “cheat” that are just as effective, you have to ask yourself if all the hoopla is worth it.

But the film is about so much more than steroids. It’s really about America’s drive to be the best and how that drives Americans to do whatever they have to do, lie, cheat, or steal, in order to meet that expectation. So, cheaters DO prosper. Nice guys DO finish last. You can screw everyone around you and still get to the top. You begin to realize how much spin is out there to create the illusion of ethics and morality and fairness, when these messages are all perpetuated by people with agendas and are as guilty of being flawed and cruel and unfair as anyone else.

There is no way you will exit the theater with the same rose-tinted glasses as when you entered. The film isn’t vicious. It’s not out to make you feel bad. It’s just examining the motivation behind the messaging and how messed up it is. It should be required viewing.

Score: 9


Marilyn said...

Love your movie wrap-ups, Jon (especially since I never get to actually see a movie). At least I get to find out from you and Farrah what I'm missing (or not!).

Farrah said...

Oh my gosh, I was cracking up about Edward Norton's head being the Crystal Skull.