Monday, March 20, 2006

Movie Mon. - The Sandwich Jingle from Prize Winner Is Still Stuck In My Head

Saw several good movies this past week, three of which contained scenes which mildly (and not so mildly) disturbed me; one of those three, A History of Violence, will not be discussed below, but will get its own spoiler-heavy post soon, as will my sole big-screen review of the week, V for Vendetta. For now, suffice it to say that I liked both of them quite a bit. And now, on to the not-quite-as-spoilery reviews.

Good Night and Good Luck: Oscar-nominated film about newscaster Edward R. Murrow's attempts to throw light on the paranoiac actions of Senator Joe McCarthy during the height of the Red Scare in the 1950s. A very well made film, with an excellent acting job by David Strathairn, as usual. I just wish I'd been in the mood for a historical set piece when I watched it; while I was able to appreciate the quality of the film, I had a difficult time getting into it. My one complaint with the film is that the storyline of the couple who kept their marriage a secret felt as extraneous as Jaime Bell's character in Peter Jackson's King Kong.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: Film based on the memoir of "Tuff" Ryan, whose mother helped support her family of 12 by constantly entering promotional contests in the 50s and 60s, commonly known as "contesting." At the time, contests were much more than just getting lucky and having your name drawn out of the hat; most of them not only required contestants to write some form of entry, whether it be a testimonial, a slogan, or a jingle, but actually had a large staff of workers who judged the entries on their literary merit. Quite a change from today's scratch off mentality, huh? Anyway, the movie stars Julianne Moore as the incredibly prolific contester whose skills kept her family in appliances, foodstuffs, and on several occasions, rent money, a fact not always appreciated by her alcoholic (and increasingly emasculated) husband, played by Woody Harrelson. I really enjoyed this one; it was hard not to be entranced by the efforts of this mother of 10 who used her natural wit and linguistic skills to great effect.

Marebito: Odd Japanese horror film about an emotionally distanced cameraman who witnesses a suicide in the subway and subsequently becomes obsessed with being able to experience the same terror he saw in the dead man's eyes; this obsession leads him to a strange netherworld filled with mysterious and dangerous figures, one of whom he liberates and brings back to his apartment. This movie was not even close to what I expected, most of which can be blamed on the fact that the Netflix blurb gives a pretty bogus synopsis of the film, claiming that it's about a timid cameraman who's forced to do a story about subway ghosts. The film was oddly hypnotic; I'm still not sure how I felt about it, but while it was on I couldn't take my eyes away from it. This was a much more philosophical film than most American horror films, as the protagonist's inner monologues contemplate the power of terror and his own possible insanity, and his conversations with other individuals range into territory like the hollow earth theory and the writings of Richard Sharpe Shaver. Not a lot to satisfy gore-hounds here, but I will admit that the penultimate seen between the protagonist and his apartment guest gave me the heebie jeebies.

Three Extremes: This film is comprised of three horror shorts from three Asian directors from three different countries: Takashi Miike (Audition, The Happiness of the Katakuris, Ichi the Killer) from Japan's Box about a woman haunted by visions of the death of her sister; Fruit Chan (The First Mission, Finale in Blood, The Public Toilet) from Hong Kong's Dumplings about a wealthy woman willing to go to gruesome lengths to retain her youth; and Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, J.S.A., Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) from South Korea's Cut, about a director who is kidnapped and tortured by a psychotic extra. I don't want to say much about any of the segments for fear of diluting their impact, but I will say this: pay very close attention to Cut, which was my favorite of the three sections. All three were beautifully filmed, as I've come to expect from both Park and Miike; I'm afraid I'm not familiar with Fruit Chan's work prior to this, but I'm definitely curious now. I enjoyed all three segments, although Box, while full of some excellent cinematography and screen composition, was the least engaging of the three. Some disturbing stuff sprinkled throughout, especially in Dumplings when you see the crazy cook obtaining the ingredients for her revitalizing dumplings.

The Young Unknowns: Thoroughly unpleasant film about a thoroughly unpleasant group of twenty-somethings in Hollywood. Film centers around Devon Gummersal (probably best known as Brian Krakow on My So Called Life, although he will always be the Pink Rapist from Felicity to me) who plays the self-centered son of a world-famous director whose world is about to come crashing down on him. Film also stars Leslie Bibb (of E.R. and Popular) as a model with a drug habit, and Eion Bailey (also of E.R.) as Gummersal's equally self-centered best friend. While all the actors did fine with what they were given (especially Bibb as the spaced out model), what they were given wasn't all that great. A few snatches of entertainment here and there, but the main characters were all so danged unlikable that I couldn't enjoy the film at all.


Cap'n Cluck said...

I expect a full report on "The Happiest Millionaire" in next week's Movie Monday.

Have a Cluckity Cluck Cluck Day!