During the long, dark days of winter, I often find myself watching a lot of videos and DVDs at home and this holiday break has been no exception. Without further ado, I now present Miss Method’s guide to recent (and semi-recent) releases:
Two Opposable Digits Way Up:
Batman: The Dark Knight
Apart from beating the Batman franchise to death, I was put off from watching this movie because I thought it was much too violent. However, I have to say that I was pleased and even surprised by how well-done “The Dark Knight” is . This is a very anti-heroic superhero picture. Briefly, the forces of organized crime have re-grouped and are fighting back against Batman and the reformers within City Hall and the police force. To do this, they decide to hire the Joker, a professional assassin, to take out Batman and the others, but the Joker is no ordinary killer and events quickly escalate.
Although there are action sequences, they aren’t the focus of the film. The real message of the movie is that defeating the forces that threaten society isn’t as easy as blowing up the bad guys. The draconian measures that Batman and Gotham employ have unforeseen consequences. In failing to understand his enemies, Batman has inadvertantly created a much worse villain in the Joker.
An especially nice touch: the presence of wanna-be Batman vigilantes.
“There is no charge for awesomeness. Or attractiveness.”
Kung Fu Panda
I laughed, I cried, I laughed some more through this animated story of a panda fan-boy who is chosen to be the Dragon Warrior and defend his community against the outlaw Tai-Lung. If you were exposed to very bad kung-fu action movies during your formative years, as I was, you will enjoy the way this flick parodies the genre. The central theme of the movie, however, is the special bond between teacher and student. Po the wanna-be warrior can’t achieve anything even remotely resembling competence at kung-fu until Sifu, his snappish teacher, not only believes in him, but works out the best way to teach him.
Two words, folks: Steampunk Oz. If you get the SciFi Channel, you may have already heard of this excellent mini-series. If you don’t, you will be pleasantly surprised by this dark, modern re-telling of L. Frank Baum’s classic story, The Wizard of Oz.
Dorothy (D.G.) is a restless young woman, bored by her humdrum existence as a small-town waitress and troubled by strange dreams at night. Her life as she knows it is abruptly brought to an end when her family home is attacked by stormtroopers and she and her parents have to jump into a tornado to escape. Waking up in the O.Z. (Outer Zone), D.G. seeks to find her parents, her memories, and her past. Hunted by the evil sorceress Azakadellia who is hiding secrets of her own, D.G. is helped by Glitch, an enemy of the state who has had his brain literally removed, Raw, an abused, lion-like psychic, and Wyatt Caine, a former law officer or “tin man” imprisoned in a suit of armor for remaining loyal to the previous regime. Can Dorothy find her power and save the O.Z. before darkness descends on the land forever?
“Tin Man” is hampered by a slow beginning, cheesey, made-for-TV special effects, and a largely uninteresting performance by lead actress Zooey Deschanel as D.G. who seems to have been chosen for her big blue eyes as opposed to any acting chops. Pluses: a script (and scriptwriters) who refuse take the easy way out and winning performances from experienced character actors like Alan Cummings (Glitch) and Neal McDonough (Tin Man).
This ain’t your mama’s Oz, friends, but it is a complex, noirish, modern day fairytale. Watch it.
Good, But Not Great
Sanaa Lathan plays Kenya, a successful, black, female professional who is looking for the perfect man. She has a little list–well, a long list, actually–of all of his traits. He has to be white-collar, college-educated, and definitely African-American. However, she finds herself unexpectedly attracted to the free-spirited, blue-collar Brian (Simon Baker), a landscape architect she hires to renovate her backyard. Brian is everything she doesn’t want in a man–he likes dogs, he works with his hands, he’s outdoorsy, and most of all, he’s white. When Kenya meets Mark (Blair Underwood), a handsome black tax attorney and the living embodiment of her perfect man list, she has to decide where her heart truly lies.
While the film’s interracial romance and strong message about the importance of following your heart and opening yourself up to new experiences elevate it above the common fare, the movie is held down by a formulaic script. The actors turn in great performances, but there is never any doubt in our minds about which boy the girl will eventually wind up with.
The intense Afro-centricism also seems very forced. Upper class black professionals are portrayed as a group so snotty and pedigree-conscious that President-elect Obama (a bi-racial guy from a multi-racial family) couldn’t get an invitation to their events. A more subtle approach to showing the racial prejudices of the characters would have worked better.
This movie is a great one to watch around New Year’s. I know that it really made me question how open I was to new experiences that were outside of my comfort zone.
The Bucket List
Good end-of-the-trail movie. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play two very different men with terminal cancer who opt to spend their final days doing things they’ve always wanted to, but have put off. Along the way, they have to come to terms with the life choices that they’ve made. Nice twist at the end.
The biggest flaw of this movie is its extremely slow pace which blights an otherwise fine noir drama about a broken down cop and the petty thief he’s trying to deliver to the grand jury, just sixteen blocks away from the jail. Bruce Willis stars as Jack Mosely a washed up, alcoholic NYPD cop just going through the motions. Jack is given an easy assignment: transport Eddie (Mos Def), a whiney petty thief to the court house just down the street, but this quickie errand turns into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse when crooked cops including Jack’s ex-partner try to kill Eddie before he can testify. The focus of this movie is not on car chases and gunplay, but on Jack and Eddie’s internal drama as the characters bond and face hard truths about themselves. For the record, I preferred the theater ending to the alternative ending.
A charming, modern fairytale about a young woman who is cursed with the nose of a pig. Only when one of her own class accepts her can the curse be broken. Tired of waiting for the right suitor to come along, Penelope leaves her secluded life at home to find her own way. It sounds lame, but it really is a fine movie. Christina Ricci stars as the title character and Reese Witherspoon is the producer.
Two Thumbs Down
You know a film just isn’t going to make it when you find yourself reaching for a book less than half-way through. This isn’t a film so much as it is an extended music video–a pastiche of ’70s songs with a very thin storyline. Yes, the music is toe-tapping in an easy listening sort of way and yes, Meryl Streep is always watchable, but I expect a bit more from my movies.
This is one of those movies that looks very promising, but then doesn’t deliver. Part of the problem is that I think the movie-makers just couldn’t decide what the story was really all about. Is it a love story between Wall-E and EVA? Is is the usual, hackneyed tale about machines declaring dominion over human beings? Or is it a cautionary tale about the effect of overconsumption on the environment? The animators clearly had a lot of fun here, but the script needs a complete overhaul.
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