Movie Diary: Lars And The Real Girl

So hey, for a variety of personal reasons, I've been really bad at keeping up on the book/movie updates I've committed myself to writing. Since I don't have to work today, I figured catching up would be a worthwhile thing to do, and in the interests of getting that happening, here's something about a movie I saw last week. For the record, I don't know what it will be, but I swear to god my next post will NOT be a movie diary post. SWEAR to GOD.

"Lars And The Real Girl" was not quite what I expected. It features a lot of awesome indie-film talent: Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson), Paul Schneider (All The Real Girls), Emily Mortimer (Lovely And Amazing), Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent)... that alone was enough to make me want to watch it. I was less sure about the movie's premise, something involving a socially awkward guy getting a realdoll. I wasn't sure whether they'd play it for humor, or whether it'd be more like the indie movies I know the cast from, or what. Turns out, kinda both. Lars (Gosling) is convinced, when his realdoll arrives, that she's a real person. He introduces her to his brother Gus (Schneider) and Gus's wife Karin (Mortimer) as a real person that he met on the internet. He seems to have no idea that she's a doll. Gus is mortified, and somehow feels like he's to blame for his brother going crazy. Karin calms him down and convinces him to take Lars to the doctor, which they do. The doctor (Clarkson) decides that Lars is not crazy but merely suffering from a delusion, and tells Gus and Karin they should go along with it. Not only do they do this, they manage to convince a large portion of their small town to do so as well.

The first half or so of this movie has a lot of moments that are hilarious due to sheer awkwardness, but the part of it that I found really interesting was later on, when the entire town seemed to grow used to Lars and his realdoll girlfriend. People start to talk about "Bianca" as if she's a real person, and integrate her into local life. That's when it gets really interesting--less funny and more in line with the sort of character-based slice-of-life indie film that I know the actors in this movie from. It's easy for a movie like this to go for the awkward laughs throughout, and I think the filmmakers took a real chance in trying to move beyond that, to a more sympathetic treatment of the entire issue. Now, in getting there, a few different things were depicted that strained the limits of plausibility for me, especially during the last 20 minutes or so of the film. I won't explain further in the interest of avoiding spoilers, but I will say that ultimately I was still able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the movie. It wasn't quite what I thought I was getting into when I rented it though, so if you decide to see it, keep that in mind.



Movie Diary: Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle.

This entry was written at least a week ago. I've been having trouble writing anything. Depression or something. You know the story. I'll be back at full strength soon, I hope.

Last night I finally saw "Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle" for the first time. I know this is a quintessential comedy in many circles, but I was old enough when it came out to be living on my own but still young enough to be focusing all of my attention on things like punk rocik shows, so I ended up missing it completely. And maybe I would have had a different reaction if I'd seen it when it was new and not already canonized as a classic of stoner comedy, but ultimately I just found it underwhelming. While I can handle movies that play fast and loose with continuity and plausibility, especially in the comedic realm, movies tend to lose me if they get too cartoonish, and Harold and Kumar doing things like riding a cheetah and catching a lift with a tow truck driver covered in festering boils were a bit too much for me. There were funny parts, don't get me wrong, but it just didn't hold together all that well for me. I like quite a few more stoner comedies than people might expect, but I just can't rate "Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle" alongside such classics of the genre as "Up In Smoke," "Dazed And Confused," and "Dude, Where's My Car" (yeah, I said it). It's closer to the B-list of the genre: "How High," "Half Baked," etc. Not bad, but not something I'm going to pull out and rewatch when I'm bored and need a laugh, and since that's the true measure of a successful comedy, I gotta say "Harold and Kumar" falls short.



Movie Diary: Mirrormask.

Oh hey, I almost forgot, I saw "Mirrormask" on Thursday. Not optimal viewing circumstances, specifically because I was falling asleep throughout the first half of the movie. I eventually woke myself up by chowing down on some overly sugary strawberry Whoppers candies, but there are still parts of the movie that are pretty unclear to me. I don't think it was nearly as big a deal with "Mirrormask" as it would have been with a lot of movies, though. To be honest, the plot struck me as incredibly cliched. It seems like every fantasy novel or movie aimed at the pre-teen set features the same basic plot (other than the Harry Potter series, which still contains some of these elements)--13 year old protagonist discovers doorway into alternate universe, must go on quest within alternate universe to save important alternate universe public figure in order to return home. Said quest generally ties in with the protagonist's real life, too. See "The Talisman," "The Wizard Of Oz," many many others. China Mieville's recent young adult novel "Un Lun Dun" actually pokes fun at many of these cliches, which is one of many reasons that I want to read it. But anyway, let's get back to talking about "Mirrormask." Specific details of cliched plot: Helena is a 12 year old British girl whose parents run a small-time traveling circus, and who grudgingly helps out with the circus as a juggler/errand girl, even though she'd rather be drawing most of the time. When not doing the circus, she and her family live in a totally grungy and bleak high-rise tenement building that looks straight out of a J.G. Ballard novel, and she papers the walls of her room with drawings of fantastic landscapes. One night, Helena's mother is taken ill during the circus, and is rushed to the hospital. She needs emergency surgery. The next day, Helena wakes up in an alternate fantasy world where she looks just like the Black Queen's daughter. Said Black Queen's daughter has apparently tired of her controlling mother, and used something called The Mirrormask to switch places with Helena and move into the real world, while pushing Helena back into her alternate fantasy world. Doing so has also caused the White Queen (who looks just like Helena's mom, as, for that matter, does the Black Queen) to fall into a coma. Now Helena must find the Mirrormask herself in order to set everything to rights.

The plot is ridiculously predictable from there on, and I think I would have liked this movie a lot more if I hadn't been able to predict every single thing that happened. That said, the point of this movie seems to be less the story (written by Neil Gaiman) than the incredible artistic set design and direction by artist Dave McKean. And it is a beautiful movie. Helena finds that the world she's been transferred into is much like her own drawings, only more elaborate and colorful. In fact, whenever she finds a window and looks through it, she sees out of windows in her drawings, pasted on her walls, and can watch the Black Queen's daughter living her life, behaving like some sort of evil twin and screwing everything up. The landscape she travels through on her quest is fascinating to look at, but now, thinking back about the movie and trying to write about it, I keep getting hung up on the cliches of the plot. I know I enjoyed myself while I was watching this movie, but I feel like it wouldn't hold up to repeated viewings unless you were strictly watching it to look at the art. Since I tend to have more respect for the writing talents of Neil Gaiman than to think he would turn out cliched crap like this (an opinion that I know is not universally held), I can only figure that he was more writing this movie to showcase the visual talents of Dave McKean than because he'd had a brilliant idea for a story that he couldn't wait to write down. Apparently McKean helped with the original story concept, too, so who knows? Maybe the cliched elements were more McKean's idea. Either way, though, this is not a movie for people who go to movies to hear new and original stories. If you're someone who can sit through a thousand iterations of the same basic story idea and love them every time, and/or someone who can enjoy a movie for how it looks even if the story itself isn't that great (fans of Michel Gondry's "The Science Of Sleep," I'm looking at you), go ahead and give this one a whirl. Personally, though, I wasn't exactly impressed.

Note: It actually took me so long to post this that the Thursday referred to in the entry is a week ago. I wrote the entry last Saturday and took 5 days to post it. The blog will probably carry on in this lackluster fashion for at least a little while longer, unless something really unexpected happens to pull me out of the depression I'm in right now. Sorry about that, guys. Maybe I'll feel better tomorrow.



Movie Diary: Observe And Report.

Two nights ago I took advantage of my Criterion Club membership, which provides $6 Tuesdays at the movie theater three blocks from my house, in order to see "Observe And Report." It was only playing at 10:05, and the guy who sold me my ticket told me that I was lucky to be seeing it, since they were showing it one more time the next night, then cutting it down and returning it to make room for the new "Star Trek" film. I really don't think it was out for more than two or three weeks, and I was one of three people who saw it on Tuesday, so I'm thinking it must have bombed. I can see two pretty obvious reasons for that: 1) people expected it to just be Seth Rogen in a "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" retread, and didn't figure it was worth seeing. That's understandable, considering the way the trailers presented it. 2) That's not what it is at all, and in fact it mixes its already-dark comedy with some downright fucked up stuff, which means that the sort of people who hit it on opening night looking for a new "Knocked Up" or "Superbad" probably went away horrified and warned their friends away from it.

Neither of these ideas made any impact on my wanting to see it. Having seen writer/director Jody Hill's recent HBO series, "Eastbound And Down," I knew what to expect from him--comedy that sometimes pushes too far into not-funny-anymore awkwardness, mixed with the occasional moments of depressing pathos. The kind of thing that would put off seekers of "Superbad"/"Paul Blart" type hijinks immediately. And in fact, Hill and Rogen take things quite a bit farther in "Observe And Report" than they were ever taken in "Eastbound And Down." The basic plot is as follows: Rogen runs mall security, and when a parking-lot flasher and a midnight thief both strike the mall in the same week, he's determined to solve the crimes, and resents the intrusion of an actual police detective (Ray Liotta). Meanwhile, he's also got a crush on a blonde bimbo who works the makeup counter in the mall department store, and when the flasher flashes her, Rogen goes into overdrive to protect and impress her. He manages to also coerce her into going on a date with him, but she's not really that into it, and then he stops taking his meds... upshot is, dude goes completely off the rails, and the later parts of this movie are more like "Travis Bickle: Mall Cop" than anything the trailers might have led you to expect. I enjoyed watching the movie, and laughed my ass off at parts, but other parts were shocking, and I think only someone with a truly sick sense of humor could find the whole thing funny.

In the end, I don't think the problem with "Observe and Report" is anything relating to its actual quality; it's more just that it's not easily categorized. People who walk into it expecting dumb mall-cop slapstick will be surprised and probably frightened. People who come in looking for post-Apatow Seth Rogen comedy hijinks won't be frightened so much as weirded out. I think only people who walk in expecting a weird movie that doesn't fit into any one category are going to be able to get on this film's wavelength. Jody Hill's previous movie, "The Foot Fist Way," was far more of a cult movie than any sort of mainstream success, and I have a feeling that the same will be true of this one. That said, the guy's got talent, and this is a good movie, despite it not conforming to expectations.



Movie Diary: The Burbs.

Lately, at night, after I've watched my typical hour or so of political TV that I DVRed earlier that evening, I've been wanting to watch something, but never feeling like diving into a full-length movie. Usually I'm just fucked on this score, because once I watch the political/news TV shows I tape every day, all I've got on DVR is a shitload of movies. And that's still true right now, but there's one movie in particular that I DVRed last week, and now I'm falling into the habit of watching a scene or two before going to bed, maybe catching 15 minutes of it at a time. I'm a bit more than a third of the way through it now.

That movie is "The Burbs," a horror/black comedy hybrid released in 1989 and directed by Joe Dante, who explored the line between those two genres in several movies back in the 80s, most notably "Gremlins." "The Burbs" is far more on the comedy side of things than "Gremlins," though the horror elements are present throughout, often showing up at a point when you were just about to be lulled into thinking of it as a straight 80s comedy. I'm not sure how well-known this movie is, or how well-regarded. All I know is that this is one of very few movies that I saw and loved when I was a kid that has remained in my all-time top 10 all the way into adulthood. I first saw it when I was 12, and have probably seen it 50 times since then, at first due to repeated rentals on weekends when I was in high school and later as an edited version that I taped off network TV (oh, the 80s). This is my first time seeing it since probably 10 years ago, if not more, and it amazes me how well it holds up, and how little of my love for it is really just rooted in childhood nostalgia. Tom Hanks is the protagonist, a family man who lives on a cul-de-sac and is puzzled and disturbed by the erratic behavior of his new neighbors. The supporting cast is great too, though--Carrie Fisher as his wife, Rick Ducommun as the obnoxious neighbor who nags Hanks into supporting his own nosiness, Bruce Dern as the frantic, military-fixated Vietnam vet across the street, Corey Feldman as the stoned teenager who lives elsewhere on the block, and Henry Gibson and Brother Theodore as the bizarre neighbors, among others, all add greatly to the fun of this film. The plot is well-constructed, the comedic parts are still hilarious even now that I'm all grown up, and there are some great five to ten minute scenes that almost stand on their own in their hilarious-yet-scary awesomeness. Tonight I watched the scene, rather early in the movie, in which Hanks, Dern, and Ducommun are running around the neighborhood spying like the nosy neighbors they are, to Feldman's great amusement, when suddenly some truly bizarre shit happens at the neighbors' house and validates all of Ducommun and Dern's neighborly concerns. It's a note-perfect scene, alternately hilarious and terrifying, and when it was over, I didn't even want to watch any more of the film. I turned it off, and I'll get back to it tomorrow. It's not like this movie has anything new to reveal to me, considering how many times I've seen it, so it's not at all hard for me to go away from it and come back. But nonetheless, I'm really enjoying watching it a scene or two at a time, just reveling in how awesome it is.

I dunno, maybe I'm insane, but I don't think I could ever get tired of this movie.