Saturday, November 26, 2005

Lazy Weekend Movie Reviews

The weekend is lazy, and the reviews are lazy. But we've recently seen a couple that we might have missed, and were worth watching. That's pretty much my review criteria: Waste of Time or Worth Watching...unless it's exceptionally good, in a "The Usual Suspects" or "Godfather II" or "North By Northwest" kind of way, or exceptionally bad, in a "Meet The Fockers" or "Cemetery Man" kind of way.

First up, one I had to beg Alex to watch with me, but I think he was glad he did. "Elephant" is a Gus Van Sant film (written and directed), so it's no surprise I liked it. It's the story of a school shooting, told in a very spartan manner from several viewpoints, in a purely observational style. It's one of those films that makes you think, but I really liked looking at it as well. Things are often awash in a white or warm yellow light, which lends a beauty and optimish that is in direct conflict with the plot. There are no actors you'd recognize, except for Timothy Bottoms in a very small role. Some of the kids, especially this one, should get more work in the future, I'd hope. A simple little film like this illustrates what makes Gus Van Sant and Larry McMurtry such a compatible pair. There's no moral, no real "ending," no whys and wherefores, no closure. That ticks a lot of people off, but I've always been fond of the "voyeuristic" films, where no one is telling me what conclusions to draw.

And here was a surprise-- "Equilibrium," starring Christian Bale and Taye Diggs. I don't know how this one missed attention during its original run, but I'd kind of suspect it was due to some similarities with "The Matrix." It was kind of like "The Matrix," if "The Matrix" had been good, you know? Borrowing heavily from 1984, Brave New World, and Farenheit 451, among other "bleak future" tales with which we're all familiar, "Equilibrium" sets itself up on a pretty shaky premise: a future in which the population is forced to drug themselves in order to do away with all emotion...for a more orderly society and all that, don't you know. Of course, books, art, etc. are all illegal and "sense crime" is punishable by death.

The reason the whole no-emotion bit doesn't work is that people have to be able to feel something to drive them to accomplish even the most mundane menial tasks, even if it's only fear or anxiety of losing a job. And there are several times throughout the film when the "sense police" or whatever they're called are showing definite signs of such emotion as anger, pride, righteous indignation, and the like. But OK, get past all that, throw your suspension of disbelief into high gear, and you're in for a fun ride. No super-special-effects for the fighting, just really good choreography, and a yummy Christian Bale and Taye Diggs to look at, as well as the cool Hugh Ferris-inspired architecture and backgrounds.

If anyone wants to join our Netflix "friends" list to swap movie info and recommendations, drop me a line. It seems we find our best movies through word of mouth.


  1. I haven't seen any of those, but they sound worth checking out.

    When you mentioned the story of a school shooting, it made me think of one of my favorite movies: "Bowling for Columbine".

  2. MMmmm Taye DIggs. Winston. So hot. So frigging hot. Aaasahhhhh.

  3. Totally different from BFC, because you're just watching it happen, with little to no insight inside the process. I noticed that many user-reviews on Netflix rated it very poorly, while most critics gave it 4 or 5 stars. Hmmm.

  4. Equilibrium was so cool. I remember renting it thinking, Christian Bale, I like this guy (and I have no idea why I never even saw a preview for this film, let alone saw it in a theater...) and he and Sean Bean go into the building and he kicks down the door....

    But I think the undertones of feelings really resonated with me.

    Glad you liked it!

  5. Dan, I never heard of it, either, and it was only from 2002, I think! Maybe it got shoved into the direct-to-video market because of the similarities with and timing of "The Matrix," I dunno. But the whole "no feelings" thing just doesn't work. I mean, people had families...with no emotion, what would drive you to marry, much less procreate? And even the way people turned each other in for "sense crime"...that would require devotion to leadership, which would come from where? Either patriotism (pride) or fear--IOW, *feelings*. Hmmph.

    But still, I liked it a whole lot better than Matrix. And I can understand how the "drugged into submission" themes might have resonated with you. I worry about that want stability in your loved ones (or yourself), but not to the point of being chemcially lobotomized.

  6. Good reviews. If you can explain the netflix friends thing I'd love to do that. Did Larry McMurtry write Elephant? I've read almost everything he ever wrote. I haven't seen Elephant, but from your review I'd recommend the book Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy if you haven't read it. I remember listening to Mahalia Jackson while reading it and just knowing we were in the last days.

  7. Equilibrium sounds cool. Gotta look for it next time went renting.

    I thought the Matrix was okay, but not the masterpeice that some in the SF community claim it to be. I actually like the sequels more because I liked Jada Pickett's character and Link (played by actor who plays Michael on "Lost.") Not great movies but lots of action. (My taste is very male; explosions=good.)

  8. Doug, no, McMurtry didn't write "Elephant," and I am an idiot, because I had Van Sant confused with another favorite (and similar-style) director of mine, Peter Bogdanovich. Dang. I hate when I so something like that publicly. I just really love the voyeuristic style of McMurtry...I love how his male characters are just so totally mystified by women, and just accept that women are mystifying and confounding and that there's nothing to be done about it! He's really one of my big-time faves. Some of the early stuff, especially, like "Some Can Whistle" and "Cadillac Jack."

  9. Pat, my rules for fight scenes and/or chase scenes are: They need to be short, I need to be able to SEE what's going on and who's doing what to whom, and none of that so-called auteuristic martial arts crap where people dance across treetops or freakin' FLY. I hate that. I don't mind a good fight, but much prefer choreography to special effects. Now, Alex likes things asplodin', because it makes the surround-sound rattle our chairs.