Netflux: “D.C. Cab”

I used Netflix’s streaming service to watch this one, which probably gives some indication of its quality. The reason you might want to watch this movie is probably the reason I wanted to: to see performances from some of the all-time greats: Adam Baldwin (of Chuck and Firefly fame), Mr. T, Bill Maher, Paul Rodriguez, Bob Zmuda and the incomparable Gary Busey. A lot of people say that Gary Busey has gone off the deep end lately. I think this movie (from 1983) proves that he was off the deep end long long ago!

The movie doesn’t really go anywhere for the first hour or so; all of the actors just get to play themselves being themselves with no plot getting in their way. They all do a great job, of course, but there isn’t enough of them! There are so many characters in the movie that you can’t gain a full appreciation for their antics individually.

Anyway, the movie is ostensibly set in D.C., which is my home base. I enjoyed some of the various D.C. callouts, and I didn’t see one coming when I should have. When the team meets at “Abe’s Place,” we eventually find out it’s the Lincoln Memorial they mean. Mr. T makes the Silent Bob speech of the movie, and then salutes Lincoln himself. It would be stirring if it wasn’t so absurd! Luckily, I enjoy absurd. If you do too, you should see this one!


Netflux: Waitress

This review will have spoilers! So, if you haven’t seen the movie Waitress, and you plan on seeing it, don’t read this review. In fact, if you haven’t seen it, go see it, and then come back and read it.

This movie was recommended to me by a good friend whose opinion I respect a lot, so I came at it with a little higher hopes and a little bit more of a critical eye than usual. I’m trying not to talk about it with her until I’ve finished the review so as not to be corrupted by alien viewpoints!

This film is one of the triumvirate of recent “I’m having this baby” films, the others being Juno and Knocked Up. While all three have their comedic elements, this is the most earnest, poignant, and realistic. These are among the few films this year that pass the Bechdel rule: the movie has a conversation between two women who are talking about something other than a man. This is a good thing.

The movie centers around Jenna, who is a waitress and pie-maker in a “pie diner” somewhere in the South. She is stuck in a marriage to a terrible guy who doesn’t let her have any freedom whatsoever and treats her like his property. She feels very trapped in her life, and then she finds out she’s pregnant. Undeterred, she redoubles her efforts to escape from her husband and also starts an affair with her obstetrician. Things come to a head when she has the baby, and she decides to leave her husband, end her affair, and meet her new baby all at the same time. The owner of the diner, who she has befriended while waitressing for him, gives her a gift big enough to start her life anew.

There are many praiseworthy aspects of the film. The performances are excellent. Captain Hammer himself, Nathan FIllion, plays the obstetrician with a cute nervous formality that I identified with strongly. Adrienne Shelly, the film-maker, plays an equally cutely nervous single girl looking for Mr. Right. Andy Griffith at 80 gives the best performance I’ve seen from him.

I don’t know how qualified I am to speak on it, but the movie seems to come from a very feminine perspective: it touches on the kinds of lives women lead, how they are sometimes treated, and what choices they are sometimes forced to make. Any (good) movie about pregnancy will have these themes but this one goes far beyond those aspects into all the realms of its characters personal lives. Work, marriage, money, psychology are all addressed without pulling any punches, which makes for very good drama.

An interesting artistic choice made by the filmmakers was that in a few very key moments in the film, the camera settles on Jenna, bringing her into focus putting everything else into the background. The key scene, where she delivers her baby, has the secondary characters (mainly her lover and her husband) literally blurred out of existence and focuses solely on the profound emotional experience of giving birth.

While the above three aspects (fulfilling the Bechdel rule, exploring all aspects of life, and focusing on the main character while blurring the secondary (male) characters) all give the movie feminist credibility, I felt there was one thing that rolled it back. In the end, Jenna had decided to run away with her doctor so that she could finally escape. When Joe (a man) gives her the gift of a great deal of money, she decides not to. This implies, to me at least, that she was planning on running away with him because of monetary reasons, not for another reason (such as love). The fact that she was dependent on all three men in the film in some way undermined the idea that she has the power to determine her own life. There are mitigating factors in both of these cases (she didn’t go with him because she met his wife, she could have obtained the money herself by entering a pie-making contest), but I think the idea still stands.

Just because a film is feminist and has good performances doesn’t make it necessarily good. But this one was, and I would fully recommend you see it (though you shouldn’t have read all these spoilers if you haven’t yet). I’m going to give it 4 stars on my Netflix account right now.

Netflux: “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters”

I don’t know how you can pull so much drama out of a bunch of nerds getting together to play video games.  I guess it proves there’s drama in everything that people do.

The King of Kong is a documentary about a man named Steve Weibe who set himself a goal: to be the world record holder of the high score in Donkey Kong, that arcade classic.  The score had been held for many many years by Billy Mitchell, who is famous amongst the classic arcade game community for setting many of the original records in the early eighties.  It’s amazing how villainous the director can make Mitchell and many of his friends seem.  The first few scenes feature only Billy and at first I thought the movie was about him, which made his egoism and cockiness a little more scary.

I had heard that this movie was excellent; one of the best documentaries of the past few years.  On that basis I got most of my family to watch it with me.  Their conclusion was mostly: meh.

I liked it, though.  There aren’t many docs out there that feature people nerdier than me doing amazing and outrageous things.  Another one that might fit that category is Trekkies, which I’m a fan of.  I think I’ll stick Trekkies 2 in the Netflix queue.

I give this one four out of five stars.  Highly recommended if you like docs, video games, or drama!

Needed more Short Round or Sallah

Just saw the new Indiana Jones.  It was so-so, definitely not the best movie of the series.  It started out pretty strong, if a little abruptly, and the action sequences early in the film were solid.  There was perhaps a little too much action.  It didn’t feel like Indiana Jones to me, it felt more like a cross between James Bond and National Treasure.

Of course, maybe that’s what Indy always was and I was just projecting a little too much mythos.  I suppose with lower expectations I might have liked it.  I did smile when they threw in some subtle (and not so subtlel) references to the other films.

If you’re not a picky filmgoer, you should definitely see it, but if you only like the cream of the crop, you can probably wait until it comes out on video.  They did have previews for Hancock and Wall-E though.  I am interested in those two.

Broflix: “Appleseed Ex Machina”

My brother has a tendency to buy movies. I can’t stop him; when he wants to, he buys three or four at a time. When he buys one based on my recommendation, then I like to watch it with him to see if he likes it (and because it’s good enough that I might want to see it again).  So, this is a special edition of my Netflux review series called Broflix.

Appleseed Ex Machina is a Japanese animated movie.  I don’t really know the definition of anime, but I feel comfortable calling it that; you can correct me if you know better.  The story is science-fictional and set about 100 years in the future in a world populated by humans, cyborgs, and genetically engineered humans created specifically to run the government.  That last part freaked me out a little bit, but apparently this is not controversial in the film.

The movie is produced by John Woo, creator of such memorable Hollywood fare as Broken Arrow, Face/Off, and Mission Impossible: II.  You can definitely see his influence in the action sequences, and his trademark doves play a pretty significant part, almost an ironic reference.  The Woo-inspired action sequences at the beginning and end of the film are actually the best thing about it;  the plot can move a little slowly in the middle.

We started out watching the dubbed version in English, but eventually I convinced my brother it is much better in Japanese with English subtitles, which is true.

Even my mom eventually sat down and watched the ending with us, and she doesn’t really care for a) movies with subtitles, b) Japanese movies, or c) animated movies.  She does like the action though, and that’s what this movie is all about.  Plus, the ending of the movie isn’t particularly sad, which are the kind of movies she likes.  She and my brother commented that Japanese movies often do have sad endings.  I pledged to get her a few more subtitled movies to watch that she might like.

I definitely recommend this film to any nerd or geek or to anyone who is an action fan.  Sometimes the science fiction is out there and the plot is fairly unsophisticated, but also unassuming in a good way.   If you want to see it, ask my brother, since he apparently owns it now.

Netflux “The Last King of Scotland”

True stories never translate that well onto film.  There’s always the sense that nothing fantastic, nothing truly mythic can happen, since the stories are, by their nature, fairly mundane.  This film definitely pushes the boundaries of that observation.  Its narrative surprises (and horrifies) the viewer with powerful, and, if true, unbelievable events.

The movie, notwithstanding its title, is about Idi Amin, the African leader who ended up murdering 300,000 of his own people, and his personal doctor, a young Scot who ended up in Uganda looking for adventure.  Forest Whitaker inhabits the role of Amin flawlessly, as he so often does.  I have never understood how a charismatic leader could be so charming, and yet so evil, until now.

With such heavy subject matter, the movie starts out rather light, as the young Scot (played by James MacAvoy, who I only know from the rumor that he might play Scotty in the new Star Trek) has the normal sorts of adventures a young man volunteering as a doctor in a foreign country has.  Really, this is the first of three stages in the film: the happy life of a young man, the whirlwind of being swept up in power and prestige, and finally the tragedy of being forced to remain in the inner circle of a madman.

I’d say this film is worth watching, if you are a fan of history at all, and especially to marvel at Forest Whitaker’s performance.  As a history buff myself, I usually end up on (gasp) Wikipedia, trying to learn more about what went on during these time periods.  Hopefully, however, I’ll start watching some lighter material.  Maybe I will do a comedy next.

Netflux “No Country for Old Men”

Every year, when they do the Oscars, I have to add a few of the top films to the Netflix queue.  Last year it was The Departed, this year, No Country was among those so chosen.  These have a bit in common, as they are among the most violent of the Best Picture winners out there.

One of the main themes of the film seems to be that the times are getting more violent.  All throughout the film I was wondering how often real crimes of these types are committed, essentially killing sprees.  I don’t think it’s quite so many as the movies would have you believe.  I’ve always bristled at the notion that things are not as safe as they used to be, and that notion was used throughout to help anchor the story.  As the movie progresses, though, some of the characters do mention that it was always this way in the West, so that redeemed this problem for me a little bit.

As a western, the story strangely fits.  I think the basic story itself could have been constructed in such a way that it would have fit in any locale, but all the elements of the classic western genre made it more poignant, especially the vast vistas early in the film.

The cast is definitely star-studded, and excellent.  Even minor roles were played like they were major.  A few characters who only had a few scenes were as compelling as was humanly possible.  I had a “Hey! It’s that guy!” moment with Garret Dillahunt, except I didn’t know what he had been in (I found out later that it was Deadwood and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

The ending of the movie I did not find compelling.  I think maybe I just didn’t understand it or go deep enough into the subtext to understand it.  Even though I didn’t get it, I felt like I wanted to get it.  When Tommy Lee Jones talks, you listen.

All in all it was pretty good.  If you don’t mind violence in your movies, I would recommend it, because there are so few movies out there worth watching.