recent movies

Cube Zero:
    This movie was just ok. Backing up a little bit for context, I really liked Cube. I thought the "Lord of the Flies" aspect of the mistrust between the prisoners was done well, and the punchline -- (mild spoiler, I guess) -- that no one person really designed the thing, that it just sort of happened -- was a really nice alegory for how profound evil can occur in the world simply through bureaucracy rather than malice.

    Cube 2: Hypercube wasn't terrible, but it wasn't really very good either. Not only did it go into impossibly magical technology (where Cube hadn't) but it gave us actual bad guys, which I thought weakened it a lot.

    Cube Zero is a prequel that deals with the behind-the-scenes operators of the machine, and how they don't really know the whole story of what they're doing or why. In that respect, it's more in line with the first movie, but it still brings in a lot more fantasy elements. It seems like they wanted the ending of Cube Zero to mesh with the beginning of Cube, but it doesn't quite.

A History of Violence:
    This is great. Definitely Cronenberg's least weird movie ever, and as such, not as creepy as you'd expect from him, but still very good. It's all about violence begetting violence, and it's handled really well. The violence is pretty graphic, but in a realistic way that makes you not want to be anywhere near it, instead of the usual Hollywood way. All the actors are fantastic.

The Aristocrats:
    This is Penn Jillette's documentary about the history of a particular joke. The structure of the joke is such that it's an excuse for the teller to just be as crude as possible for as long as they can keep it up. There are a lot of different tellings of the joke itself, which are awesome, and that's not as repetetive as you might think, but there's also a lot of discussion about why the joke works, and why it's funny. I really didn't expect a concept like this to be able to hold it together for the length of a whole movie, but it really does. It's hilarious. There's a mime version of the joke. There's a version done as a card trick!

    This is old, but somehow I missed it. It's great: it's about a bunch of temps working in an office and how they start out as friends but eventually get beaten down by the system and turn on each other. It's kind of a sadder, less-comedic version of Office Space.

Party Girl:
    I liked Clockwatchers so much, I made that night a Parker Posey double bill. I'd seen this a long time ago, but it's still awesome. Shallow, directionless club promoter finds her true calling as a librarian, re-arranges room-mate dj's records by the Dewey-Decimal system.

Aeon Flux:
    If you were completely unaware that there had ever been a cartoon called "Aeon Flux", you might have enjoyed this movie. Since I was a huge fan of the cartoon, this movie was a huge disapointment. Not just because the story and characters bore only the slightest resemblance to those in the cartoon, but because it wasn't even the same kind of story. It wasn't even remotely weird enough. This wasn't a surprise, though; trying to make a live-action version of that cartoon was obviously a terrible idea from the start, even if everyone involved had been fans. I doubt it could be accomplished at all. I guess it wasn't the train wreck I expected it to be, but it still wasn't very good. Bad science, worse fiction.

    The plot of this one will remind everybody who hasn't forgotten about it already of the execrable The Island, making this a stupid re-tread of a stupid re-tread.

    The one good thing to come out of this movie is that they finally re-released the whole cartoon series as a 3-DVD set.

The Cooler:
    The always-awesome William H. Macy plays a miserable casino employee whose job it is to screw up people's winning streaks: but he does this just by standing near them, since his super power is that he is incredibly bad luck. Then he falls in love with a girl, which is of course his kryptonite.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
    I loved these books when I was little, though I haven't read them since I was 9 or 10, I guess? From what I can remember, the story was very faithful to the book. The acting was decent, and the effects were ok. I thought they did a lot better with the realistic animals than the fantastic animals: e.g., I thought the centaurs were kind of hokey, but the beavers were great. The big battle scene was mercifully brief. Still, there was something kind of flat about the whole thing. I can't put my finger on it, since all the right elements were there, but I came out thinking it was just ok.

    Still, I liked it a lot more than the Lord of the Rings movies. I thought Fellowship was ok, but by 40 minutes into Two Towers, I was done. It turns out that about 4 hours of Tolkien is all I can stand: I never even bothered seeing Return.

    There's been a lot of talk about the Christian overtones in Lion, but really, who cares? It's still a good story, and as far as I can tell, they didn't mess with the book at all.

    Until he appeared on screen, I had completely forgotten that Santa Claus is in the story: he's their arms dealer! Onward Christmas Soldiers!

Good Night and Good Luck:
    This is about Edward Murrow going after Joe McCarthy. It was a great movie, and the analogies to modern goings-on were subtle (an easy mistake to make in a movie like this would be to beat you over the head with it, which they didn't.) I had heard that all of the McCarthy footage was historical, because they didn't want anyone accusing them of putting words in his mouth, and I was expecting some kind of CGI trickery, but it was a lot more interesting than that: they just showed you everyone watching him on tv. You get the strong impression that through this battle, Murrow and McCarthy never actually met face to face, which hadn't occurred to me.

    Overall, though, it felt like kind of a small story about office politics; I understand that standing up to McCarthy was an incredibly risky and surprising thing for someone to have done at the time, but it seemed like they didn't sell that very well.

    I kept thinking about The Insider, the story about the tobacco industry whistleblower who got left out in the cold by 60 Minutes when their corporate owners pulled the plug on the story.

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32 Responses:

  1. ubiquity75 says:

    _Clockwatchers_ is a total sleeper that was one of my favorites for the year in which it was released (1997, I think). Great, standout performances from all the leads, particularly Toni Collette. She's awesome.

    • ammonoid says:

      I somehow happened upon this movie and I also loved it. It was kind of sad how they all turned on each other, but I liked the ending.

      • charkes says:

        I too happened upon this movie; late one night on a local TV station, if I remember. It's a magical moment when you switch on the TV at 2 AM and see a great, completely unknown movie. I think the first time I saw it completely was after I bought the DVD.

        I also happened upon The Specials, liked it, and bought the DVD to see the entire movie.

        I think this happened with Cube too!

  2. dossy says:

    I really liked Cube, which is why I've refused to watch Cube Zero (and didn't even know there was a Cube 2). Don't want to ruin my fond memories of Cube.

    I really want to see The Aristocrats. Must get it on DVD.

    It sounds like you liked the Narnia movie ... have you read ESR's take on it? He comments on the books, not the movie, but his critique is well-written.

    • jwz says:

      No, I try to avoid going to esr for spiritual, literary, or political guidance.

      • That is where you have gone astray, Jamie Zawinski, because you are missing gems like this (about fashion) from his blog:

        "For me, that's adventurers' clothing, sort of Indiana Jones lite - except I liked that look before the movies. I can make it work because I'm a muscular guy with a strong physical presence; people look at the way I dress and carry myself and then aren't very surprised to learn that I've lived on three continents, visited over fifteen countries, been fluent in three languages besides English, and that I'm a serious martial artist who can fight hand-to-hand in any of three styles or with sword or pistol. They aren't supposed to be surprised; semiotically, conveying toughness and competence and resourcefulness is exactly what my clothes are for.

        There's a subtler message in there as well. I'm an intellectual, a thinker, a geek. I could dress to emphasize that, but why bother? It's going to be obvious whenever I open my mouth. It's much more fun to play off the fact that people don't expect intellectuals to look natural in adventurers' clothing, or people who look natural in adventurers' clothing to be intellectuals. Yeah. I want to bust those categories! I want to make it clear that I don't fit neatly in either box, or for that matter in any box at all.

        So, even if I weren't attracted to flight jackets and safari gear and the adventurer look, I would make something of a point of not usually dressing like a generic computer geek."

        Oh yes.

      • cdavies says:

        So, it's just the sex tips for you then?

    • spoonyfork says:

      The Ring trilogy is largely (though not entirely) internally coherent; you have to dig for edge cases like the sexual biology of elf/human matings before the seams really show.

      Do I have to? No? Good.

      • If you have to use terminology like "edge cases" in a literary review, there's something seriously wrong with you. I get enough of that at work, thankyouverymuch.

    • spendocrat says:

      It's like grade-school religious stuff. "Why does an onimpotent God let bad things happen?"

      I can't believe I actually read some of his blog.

  3. loosechanj says:

    This review really zeroed in what didn't work: Aslan just wasn't Aslan enough.

    • strspn says:

      In the books [Aslan]'s a very emotional presence, he's always described in terms of how people feel when they see him, the excitement and energy and fierce love and the call to atone. Translating all this heavily emotional stuff into something you can depict onscreen is ...

      A mistake. See voiceovers in Dune.

      • strspn says:

        (Instead of resorting to special effects or voiceovers, good adaptations of books are rescripted so that people anticipate the emotions described in the book. It wasn't possible for Dune because the story was just so complex, so it was given distracting voiceovers.)

        I don't think even a re-script could cause people to anticipate the emotions described in the Narnia books. Allegories to religious myths suffer from the same antirational bunk that the myths they are based on suffer from. If you want to be able to script something that someone will be likely to anticipate, you need to do it in a way that is gounded in reality, and myth makes that hard to get right, even for people familiar with the myths in question, without overobviousness which looks silly to everyone who isn't familiar with the myth.

  4. lroberson says:

    Cube Zero was really particularly well done, I thought, especially in the actors and their paranoia.

    And those dudes with the hyper-keyboard hands were awesome. I need implants like that and keyboards such as those installed on rotating desk plates... well, if I can't get the implants, I'll just settle for some dvorak-layout keyboards.

    Aeon Flux was a good movie IMHO, but definitely not as cool as the TV series (which I'm re-watching now for the first time since its showing on Liquid Television). I couldn't help thinking how similar it was to Sean Connery's hit in his first post-bond role: Zardoz.

  5. mark242 says:

    Ugh, Cube Zero. That ranks right up there with Aliens vs. Predator, Exorcist: The Beginning, and Jason X.

  6. logodaedaly says:

    If you liked Good Night, and Good Luck, go out and see Syriana (another Clooney/Participant Pictures movie) right this second. It probably won't be in theatres much longer--there were fewer than a dozen people in the theatre tonight when I saw it. A little hard to follow at first, but very, very good.

  7. felicks says:

    I loved clockwatchers too.

    after Good Night and Good Luck I had a screaming debate with some friends about whether the use of Liberace was homophobic.

    • I thought it was a clever little comment on the times, and how 'knowing' certain people were or chose not to be. And how our heroes aren't saints.

  8. romulusnr says:

    Lion: iawtc.

    Luck: This one had special significance for me, because in my J-school days they actually played the McCarthy episode of See It Now for us. The movie fleshes out the rest of the story (and the portion of the episode in the movie seems really faithful), which made me like it all the more. There's more to this movie than just the McC story; there was a lot of enlightening period material that I hope was also faithful. Like, I don't remember Murrow smoking in the real episode, but maybe he was. But holy fuck, he smoked through practically the entirety of each episode. Presumably the sponsor's brand. (Gotta love that "intellectual" Kent ad.) Also, hearing them read the Times' liberal editorials versus the rabid, jingiost conservative editorials showed just how things stay the same no matter how much they change.

  9. bassfingers says:

    I think the thing that killed me about the Billy the Mime segment of the Aristocrats was the fact that he was wearing a wireless mic...

  10. jqmark says:

    Heh heh hello.
    Nobody else I have ever met even enjoyed that film. Not even for just Parker

  11. petdance says:

    Interesting that you managed to see two movies w/Maria Bello gettin' nekkid and squirmy.

  12. lordshell says:

    The ironic thing with "Good Night and Good Luck" is that Tailgunner Joe was already on his way out when Murrow went after him. The backlash was already well underway, and Joe was definitely feeling the heat. (Mostly due to picking a fight with the Army. Army not have sense of humor.)

    All Murrow basically did was the equivalent of a disgruntled bar patron smacking a rowdy patron on the back of the head as the bouncer is throwing him out the door.

    Still, an interesting snapshot into a period of paranoia.

  13. zzedar says:

    What was missing from Lion was the lion. In the books, Aslan had this great sense of majesty that really made you feel that his ideals were worth fighting for. In the movie, he's pretty much just a talking lion.

  14. fantasygoat says:

    What's a jwz list without some serious hate?

    I demand you rent House Party 4 immediately.