Here’s a few DVD’s I rented in the last couple months that rose above the rest:
- Stage Beauty – I was quite surprised at this Restoration period piece. Ned Kynaston is the greatest female impersonator in London, performing Desdemona to rousing cheers every night. But when King Charles II decrees that women can play women’s roles, poor Ned is set adrift while his lowly dressing maid becomes a star in his place. “She did what she did first,” a theater owner tells Ned on night. “You did what you did last.” Fine performances from Billy Crudup, Claire Danes and the rest of the cast.
- The Corporation – How about a documentary detailing the rise of the multi-national corporation, our modern hydra, that begins with the unsettling information that, under the law, ‘a corporation is not a thing but a person. The U.S. Supreme Court so ruled, in a decision based, bizarrely, on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. That was the one that guaranteed former slaves equal rights. The court ruling meant corporations were given the rights of individuals in our society. They are free at last.
If Monsanto and WorldCom and Enron are indeed people, what kind of people are they? The movie asks Robert Hare, a consultant who helps the FBI profile its suspects. His diagnosis: Corporations by definition have a personality disorder and can be categorized as psychopathic. That is because they single-mindedly pursue their own wills and desires without any consideration for other people (or corporations) and without reference to conventional morality. They don’t act that way to be evil; it’s just, as the scorpion explained to the frog, that it’s in their nature.’ This is a chilling and unsettling movie, a look into our bleak corporate future.
- Primer – A convoluted journey through time travel and the paradoxes it raises. This movie really popped right out as an intelligent, if sometimes incomprehensible science fiction tale. It was filmed out of a garage basically, but it hardly looks cheap. Certainly worth checking out.
- The Motorcycle Diaries – An entertaining biopic about Che Guevera and his social awakening during a cross continent journey he took as a young med student in 1952. The cinematography is stunning, and it is matched by Gustavo Santaolalla’s haunting score.
- Goodbye, Lenin! – A funny movie about the lengths one son will go to protect his mother. In the last days of East Germany, loyal communist Christiane suffers a stroke and slips into a coma. Her son, Alex, is wracked with guilt because his participation in a political protest induced her stroke. He spends every day at her hospital bed as the Wall collapses and East Germany opens up to the West. When his mother miraculously awakes from the coma, Alex goes to great lengths to keep her unawares of the new political landscape. After all, the doctors say the slightest shock could kill her. Pretty soon Alex is foraging dumpster for old jars of pickles, creating glowing news reports on videotape, and bribing neighborhood kids to come over and sing communist worker anthems.
- American Splendor – On the advice of my brother-in-law, I picked up this little gem of a movie. It splices together the real Harvey Pekar, file clerk and graphic novelist, with Paul Giamatti playing his younger self. It’s funny, weird and definitely engaging. It must be oddly fascinating to watch your life played out in a movie, kind of like picking at a scab or something. Especially engaging is Our Cancer Year, recounting Pekar’s battle with testicular cancer.
- This Girl’s Life – I never thought I’d get bored with a movie about porno sex, but I really, really didn’t need to see Michael Rapaport getting busy with the beautiful lead actress in this drama. Makes me shudder just thinking about. Otherwise, this was an interesting movie about the sex industry, told from the perspective of a willing and capable porn actress. And good lord, Juliette Marquis is absolutely gorgeous. But James Woods, playing her father afflicted with Parkinson’s, steals the movie out from under her.
- Secretary – Speaking of a movie about sex, this quirky film approaches S&M like it is the self-help cure of the new millennium. Wow. Talk about a strange little movie. The mind games that go on between James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal are sometimes funny and always twisted. It’s easy to see why Spader loses interest during the final third of the movie; being the sadist in an S&M relationship is hard work. But eventually they reconcile and theirs is a match made in whips ‘n chains heaven.
- Closer – An enjoyable movie, if only for the sparkling dialogue. All four main characters are completely complicit in the misadventures of this love quadrangle. All four seem to take enjoyment out of being brutally honest without regard for their lover’s feelings, twisting the knife in and enjoying the pain it causes. It is an interesting movie, with a surprising twist at the end that forces you to reevaluate the entire movie.
- Riding Giants – Surfing with the big boys. This documentary traces the history of big wave surfers in Hawaii and California, leading up to the development of tow-in surfing by Laird Hamilton. If you dig the ocean, this is a good movie to watch. I especially enjoyed the story of Jeff Clark, who for fifteen years surfed Mavericks alone, his own slice of monster surf ignored by all the big names in Hawaii and Southern California.
- The Station Agent – A strange, quiet movie about life changes and the value of friendship. Whether the characters in this movie want it our not, friendships form and become important to them all. I’d almost describe this movie as delicate, with long carefully shot scenes of quiet, rustic abandon. Life alongside the tracks in New Jersey doesn’t look all that bad actually. Oh yeah, and it stars a dwarf, in a movie about how his size really doesn’t matter to those around him.
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – Bill Murray does his bit as a low rent Jacques Cousteau suffering from serious ennui in this entertaining and pointless movie. The idea is humorous, several scenes are dryly funny, the plot is just an excuse to move from one set up to the next wry scene. But something seemed a bit off to me. Maybe I am just getting tired of Wes Anderson’s deadpan humor, but the all the actors stumbled from one scene to the next, sort of like everybody was stoned out on good hashish. The movie has its moments, but I ain’t entirely sure it is a good movie.
- 301/302 – Now here’s a weird little movie about two diametrically opposed neighbors. The woman in apartment 301 cannot stomach any food because of her sexual frigidity, while the woman in 302 is a carnal glutton, consuming in her need for both sex and food. They’re a Korean odd couple, that’s for sure. Until 301 mysteriously disappears and the cops come round to investigate.
- Garden State – Pretty good movie. I was told to expect a ‘chick flick’ but I didn’t find it anything of the type. It was bizarrely funny in places, and achingly moving in others. And it has a great soundtrack. Natalie Portman is making a career out of playing cute, offbeat girlfriends to quirky losers. First Closer, now this. Beware the dangers of typecasting…
- In Good Company – The real surprise here. I remember the ads when this came out, and I was expecting some farcical sex comedy sort of thing. Something along the lines of what the idiot Ashton Kutcher appears in. “Dude, you’re dating the boss’ daughter!” Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. It starts out as a corporate shark diatribe, but slowly resolves into a romance that exposes the character’s humanity. It was pretty funny and touching at times. Certainly a mainstream Hollywood movie, but a pleasant one. And Scarlett Johansson is just luscious.
- Max Havoc – Just KIDDING!! That’s being held hostage for more money from GovGuam.
I know, that’s a lot of movies. I picked up one of these ‘movie passes’ at Blockbuster a couple months ago, and I’ve been off on a movie overload ever since. But I think I’m running out of movies I haven’t seen and I will cancel it in a few weeks. Mind you, this long list is just the movies I thought were worth mentioning. I’m skipping over Blade III, Alien vs. Predator, Millennium Mambo, and some other crappy movies I picked up. One movie I disliked intensely was The Dreamers. I expected something more than kinky, incestuous sex during the Paris strikes of 1968. I am sure it means more to those who were there and who love the movies it evokes, but it left me thinking Bernardo Bertolucci just has a thing for filming scenes were beautiful young girls lose their virginity in weird homes with bizarre living arrangements.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch another movie.