Monday, August 24, 2009

The Last House On The Left

I expected torture porn.

Knowing The Last House On The Left was a 2009 remake of the Wes Craven's 1970s original, I anticipated gore, disturbing imagery and a hint of the supernatural. What I watched instead was a very interesting story--albeit with a moderate amount of gore and more than a fair share of disturbing imagery--of how regular folk might handle tragedy, crisis and heartbreak.

House tells a story of resilience and desperation. Young, athletic Mari fights evil while it stares her dead-on in the face, and her parents take up the fight when Mari can't continue. The movie is highly disturbing, but responsible in how scenes are presented. For example, a rape scene integral to the plot manages to be disturbing without being explicit.

I expected torture porn and a superficial plot. Instead, House is a compelling story with a watchable cast and satisfying ending.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

People Say I'm Crazy Saying What I'm Saying...About District 9!

My blogger friend All Click has a different perspective than I on District 9. Check out his review. I don't agree with it, but he makes some interesting points.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

When The Shoe Pinches

I don't talk about what I do for a living on this blog, mostly because I don't spend time talking about movies, my annoyance with Oprah and my contempt for District 9 while at work.

Well, not much, anyway.

Now and again (outside of my typical day-to-day gig) I get paid to teach a class or two at a local institution of higher education. My favorite of the classes is designed to teach soon-to-be-professionals how to carry out their work with a culturally diverse population. Put plainly, I teach college students about cultural difference, and how to adjust their work to effectively address those differences.

I'm very proud to say it's exactly the sort of college class political conservatives sometimes complain about as being "too PC."

Yes, I'm teaching your sons and daughters to think about and have some appreciation for those who see the world from a different perspective. Most importantly, I'm teaching them to have some flexibility in the relationships formed with those people.

The horrors!

It's hard to predict the personality of each class before the semester begins. Most students, however, are interested in learning the skills that will make them more effective in their careers. That interest can lead to wonderful and insightful discussion. Sometimes, though, the class is made up of those who see the world from only their personal perspective; those students generally don't believe the geeky guy standing in front of the chalkboard, telling them that other viewpoints exist.

Last year, during a discussion of the negative effects of media on culture, some students voiced their frustration with people they deemed "too sensitive" to the images portrayed in advertising, historical works of art, magazines and comics. One twosome, who started off the dialogue with:
"Maybe I'm just a Wayne County Redneck, but..." was particularly troubled that Muslims would be upset with cartoons of Muhammad published a few years ago in newspapers.

"It's just a picture," said one of the students. "People shouldn't be so thin-skinned. In the long run, a picture or a word means nothing."

Trying to get the two students to see the problem from the perspective of Muslims was difficult, and only served to invite more hostility and frustration. That hostility grew until the other guy said:

"That's what's great about America. We aren't so thin-skinned that pictures and words upset us."

"Really?" I asked.
"You would not be upset if your spiritual leader was shown in a context contrary to your religious teaching?"

The student assured me he would not. So, I walked to the computer and dialed up youtube, where I'd run across this goofiness while preparing for the lecture the day before.

During the final seconds of the video, both students got up and walked out of the class.

We in the United States have a pervasive habit of forgetting that there are those -- due to ethnicity, race, religion, wealth , sex or other reasons-- who view the world differently than do many middle class white folks.

Some of the town hall outbursts of late, particularly those where members throw out words like "nazi" all too easily, (especially while conversing with folks who happen to be Jewish, as my friend wrote about at Donutbuzz recently), remind me of the two students in my class: people very narrow and inflexible in their thinking, who believe that change should only occur when that change will benefit them. And they think nothing of name calling, yelling insults and hurling accusations in the faces of those who are different, or who think differently, than they.

Too many of us care only when the insults are aimed at us, or when change affects only those with whom we identify. We're only thick skinned, it seems, when our own shoe's not pinching. And there's nothing politically correct about that.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Complaining About District 9 One More Time

Have I mentioned, in the last 20 minutes, how much I effen hate District 9?

One of the reasons I despise it even more after seeing it a few days ago is that the flick is now the darling of the sci-fi movie-lovin' crowd, who seem to think it's an instant classic. Rolling Stone gave it a near-perfect review, and Ain't It Cool News drooled all over it. Roger Ebert gave it a tepid review, but liked it much more than I did. Let me comment once more on what I think of the movie, and state it clearly: District 9 sucks.


Yeah, yeah...I get the allusion (if it's appropriate to use a literary term when talking about a movie) to institutional racism, and the mockumentary format is trendy, I suppose. But Jesus H., folks, this movie just plain bites.

And I have the need to shout that from the rooftops, because I'm still pissed off for being duped.

Imagine if Peter Sellers played the lead in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or, if Aliens was filmed in the same format as Waiting On Guffman. What if Jeff Goldblum was totally unlikable as the lead in The Fly?

Then you'd have District 9.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Signs You'll Have A Hangover In The Morning

Sign 1: 7:35pm.

Sign 2: 8:22pm

Sign 3: For the rest of the night, and into the morning.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

District 9

"I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world."

~ Ronald Reagan, 9/21/87

Whatever, cowboy...

I'm pretty sure District 9 is a good illustration of how we humans would treat alien visitors, whether the aliens were a threat to our world or not. We'd isolate them, take their resources and weapons to use as our own, and dissect them like we're in 8th grade biology class.

The movie was a disappointment. The flick can't overcome the cheeky tone set in the first 20 minutes, when we meet and get to know the bumbling protagonist. It's difficult to care for any of the characters, which diminishes the end scene. District 9 just never felt like a serious drama or sci-fi thriller.

Even when it tried.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nothing But The Truth

I never know what to expect anymore when a movie promo uses the phrase: "inspired by true events."

Take Open Water 2: Adrift, for example. For that film, "inspired by true events" mostly means the writer knew that once upon a time someone fell overboard into the drink and couldn't get back in the boat. Everything else is total conjecture. "Inspired by true events" in that case is highly misleading.

When Nothing But The Truth's opening credits appeared and "inspired by true events" rolled onto the screen, I expected pretty much the same: a political thriller that shared the shell of the Judith Miller / Valerie Plame saga, but carried its own weight as a fictional flick.

What I watched, though, was a too-close-to-factual story with some superficial name changes and a cutesy swerve at the end.

The actors were solid. The fatal flaw of this movie, though, is how similar it is to the real story. One can't help but compare facts as the story plays out.

And frankly, the real-life story was more entertaining.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

My Top 5: Great Movies That Should Be Seen Only Once

Great movies--those films that cause members of the audience to be speechless upon leaving the theater--are rare, and should be respected and admired as great works of art.

If Van Gogh's Starry Night is hanging in your bathroom and da Vinci's Mona Lisa is framed behind your love seat, you'd eventually become desensitized to their beauty and more likley to notice their flaws. One of the things that make great works of art great is we don't have total access to them, or see them on a day-to-day basis.

But we do have total access to movies. We buy the DVDs and watch movies over and over and over.

I've a small DVD collection, mostly because I hate to see a movie twice. There are some exceptions; I own most of the comic book movies made during the last 20 years, and some comedies, like Borat, that make me laugh during each viewing. But while I enjoy re-watching those movies on occasion, I can't force myself to buy and re-watch the handful of films I value as high art. Those gems of cinema that inspired me, caused me to re-think an issue or which moved me in some dramatic fashion.

I simply cannot bring myself to risk enjoying those movies less by seeing them more often.

Here is My Top 5: Movies That Should Be Seen Only Once.

The Grapes Of Wrath: I saw the film in my early 20s, when I was just beginning to form strong opinions on topics like politics, and human and civil rights. I can still sense the despair of the Joad family, and feel inspired by the resilience of Tom.

Brokeback Mountain: Bold, brave and shot against brilliant scenery, Brokeback was a raw portrayal of forbidden love and affection. The pacing was perfect and the characters were endearing. Most importantly, the film put a human face on a topic with which many in the U.S. struggle.

Schindler's List: The style in which this movie is made --remember the red coat worn by the young girl, which stood out so much against the black and white background that it humanized her? --is reason enough for this movie to be great. Add the subject matter and performances of a lifetime from the best modern actors and it's easy to see why List is truly great art.

The Dark Knight: This Joker flick --and we all know it's really the Joker's movie, after all-- is more than a comic book movie. I fear watching it more than once might take away the feeling of complete satisfaction I had for hours after the viewing.

Raging Bull: A movie so good it nearly made me think I was watching a documentary. Raging Bull is, simply, perfect.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


At the start of the final scene in Obsessed, co-star Beyonce Knowles glares at Ali Larter, the female villain romantically obsessed with Knowles' husband, clinches her jaw and states: "I knew it would come to this" as she beats Larter to death in a fight.

I knew it too, Beyonce. From the opening credits.

Obsessed, about a devoted and faithful husband who liked it enough to put a ring on it but is now being stalked by a unhinged kook who thinks they have a relationship, is one of the worst films I've seen.


Despite being highly predictable, a poorly conceived score and acting that borders on ridiculous, Obsession made nearly $70 million dollars at the box office this Spring.

It's unbelievable how easily we can be tricked into handing over our cost for admission.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Whatever Happened To... Douglas Barr

Well, I'm not the kind to kiss and tell,
But Doug's no longer seen with Farrah.
He's not since been seen with anything close to a nine, so fine.

After five seasons of hangin' around with bikini-clad Heather Thomas on The Fall Guy, Doug Barr piddled around with a few acting spots, and directs some TV now and again.

Since the early 90s, he's co-owner of a successful Napa Valley winery called 2480.