Sunday, February 10, 2013

More Dust More Disks

Last April I began a deliberate effort to view the DVDs that had accumulated in my closet (see Of Dust and Disks), excluding classic films (e.g. The Philadelphia Story or Casablanca) that I was pretty certain to re-watch anyway without prompting. I wrapped up the exercise in June. In the several months since than, however, DVDs have continued to appear on my closet shelves faster than older ones have vanished. By January the time had come for another video-fest to determine which DVDs should remain shelved and which should be resold on Amazon. Reactions to a dozen follow.

Super Eight (2011) – The success of the Blair Witch Project in 1999 spawned a whole genre of faux amateur videos including the likes of Cloverfield and The Fourth Kind. Super Eight is a variant of the category, with amateur footage as an element within the movie. Plot: in 1979 some tween kids with directorial, screenwriting, and acting ambitions are shooting a movie they wrote themselves with their Super Eight camera. They shoot one scene at the local train station when, by pure happenstance, they catch on camera a major train wreck that releases an extraterrestrial. The government wants to suppress the story (as it always does in these tales) and seize the kids’ film. Meantime the loose alien is on a tear, in part because of his treatment at the hands of the army and in part as a way of collecting what he needs to repair his ship. (Why 1979? I don’t know, unless because it was easier to cut off communications to a small town then, which simplifies the plot.) The flick is not bad if you take it for what it is: a scifi movie targeted especially at tween boys. Shelved (at least for now)

Drive (2011) – This film received generally positive reviews from the critics, but it isn’t for everyone, and I’m one of those for whom it isn’t. Ryan Gosling’s laconic character has an uncanny driving talent, which he uses on the race track, as a stunt driver for movies, and as a getaway driver-for-hire by crooks. He falls for his neighbor, Carey Mulligan, who, amazingly, has even less to say about anything than he does. Complications ensue when her husband gets out of jail and Gosling drives on a botched robbery. I didn’t actually dislike the movie, but it doesn’t pass the “Do I plan to watch this again?” test for taking up space on my shelf. I don’t so plan. Near the end of the film there is an extended scene in which we wait to see if Gosling has survived. I didn’t care, and that, simply, is why it doesn’t pass the test. Unshelved

.45 (2006) – Milla Jovovich’s parents (a Serbian physician and a Russian actress) moved to the US when she was a child, obviously early enough for her to have no trouble at all credibly playing all-American lowlifes, whether an Okie redneck in Dirty Girl or a streetwise illegal gun dealer in .45. In this film she is paired with Scot actor Angus MacFadyen, playing a fellow crook whose unabashed and unrestrained male energy is both attractive and scary. Drunk and jealous, he comes home one night and beats her, which turns out to be a very bad mistake. Our natural sympathies for Milla become more complex, however, as we realize how manipulative she is of everyone in her life. “Breaking the fourth wall,” she addresses the audience at the beginning of the film and at the end, when she tells us, “Life is like sex. If you want it done right you have to do it yourself.” Shelved.

The House at the End of the Street (2012) – Jennifer Lawrence is on a roll lately, and if you happen to be one of her fans you’ll probably want to see this movie for that reason alone. You won’t find many other reasons. Plot: Elisabeth Shue and Jennifer Lawrence rent a house at the end of a street next to a house where two people supposedly were murdered by their own daughter. The teen son still lives there. Is he dangerous? And what happened to his sister? I generally dislike horror films with supernatural elements (I have trouble suspending disbelief long enough for them to be scary), so the fact that the threats, real or perceived, in this movie are all-too-human counts in its favor. Nevertheless, the film is formulaic and never succeeds at being more than OK. Not truly bad, but just OK. Unshelved.

Gone (2012) – In this somewhat less formulaic suspense drama, Amanda Seyfried is the victim who got away from a psycho kidnapper. Now he is back and has kidnapped her sister as a way of entrapping Amanda. Because she has had psychological issues from her earlier trauma, the police don’t believe Amanda; they are more worried about her running around armed than they are about a possibly imaginary kidnapper. Not a great movie, but marginally shelfworthy. Shelved.

The Hunger Games (2012) – This is the film that made Jennifer Lawrence a major star. In a dystopian future, a ruling elite in the Capitol demands as tribute two young people from each of 12 formerly rebellious outer districts to compete in Hunger Games. The contestants go out into the wild and vie with each other to the death until only one survives. By rooting for their own local contestants, the denizens of the 12 districts become invested and implicated in the games and in the society. The high budget wasn’t wasted on this entertaining movie. My one complaint is that Katniss (Lawrence) is too conveniently spared the necessity of killing other sympathetic characters in the games. We’ll see if that is repeated in the sequel due out later this year. Shelved.

Tangled (2010) – Disney still does animated adaptations of fairy tales the best. This variant of the Rapunzel tale is witty, heartfelt, smart, funny and beautifully animated. There is no prince in this version. There is a road trip with a bad boy thief. Tangled did reasonably well at the box office but was not the hit it deserved to be. When you feel like letting out your inner child, this is as good a pick as any. Shelved.

Fritz the Cat (1972) – This X-rated Ralph Bakshi animated feature from 1972 (set a few years earlier) is a very different cup of tea. The characters are based on those of iconic 60s cartoonist Robert Crumb. A peek at the dark side of the 1960s, this film is not for the easily offended, but its portrayal of counterculture arrogance, establishment brutality, race conflict, and domestic terrorism was on target for the day and still resonates in 2013. It even is funny – also a little depressing. Shelved.

The Loved Ones (2009) – In this minimal budget Australian teen horror flick, Lola invites Brent to the prom. He declines, saying he is going with Holly. Bad move. Kidnapping and torture follow as Lola and her dad, with whom she has a quasi-incestuous relationship (maybe a tad more than quasi), endeavor to make her prom night with Brent special. Well, it’s better than The House at the End of the Street. This is a tough call because there are far worse horror flicks than this, and under-21s (a few of whom turn up at my house now and then) probably would like it. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t pass the plan-to-see-again test, so Unshelved.

Killer Joe (2011) – Matthew McConaughey is Joe, a Texas police detective who is a contract assassin on the side. Trailer park resident Chris and his father Ansel hire Joe to kill Chris’ mother (Ansel’s ex) for the insurance money that they are told will go to Chris’ sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Dottie is indeed a bit dotty – not firing on all synapses – but she is a sweet young thing who manages to be innocent and seductive at the same time. Joe normally demands his fee ($25,000) up front. Chris and Ansel don’t have the cash, but Joe accepts Dottie as a “retainer.” This film caught some heat from critics for the weird and degrading way Joe establishes his authority at one point, but the scene fits his character. English actress Juno Temple pulls off her role perfectly. A disturbing movie, but nonetheless Shelved.

Hesher (2011) – The boy TJ and his father are troubled because TJ’s mom died in a car accident. While expressing his frustrations with minor vandalism, TJ unintentionally disrupts the illegal living arrangements of Hesher, a young man who doesn’t believe much in shirts despite (or because of) obscene tatoos, and who drives a beat-up van that blasts heavy metal music. The anarchic Hesher moves uninvited into TJ’s garage. Hesher isn’t consciously mean, but he has no sense at all of what is socially acceptable to say or do, and doesn’t care to learn. He does pretty much whatever catches his fancy, including starting fires, setting off explosives, saying unimaginably inappropriate things, and trashing a stranger’s swimming pool for the hell of it. This is not someone you want in your garage. Yet, there is no denying that there is something refreshing about his primitive lack of concern for conventional standards. His kindnesses are unforced as his felonies, and his eulogy at a funeral is something one needs to hear to believe. (And yes, the grandmother is indeed Piper Laurie.) Shelved.

Submarine (2010) – Oliver Tate is a 15-year-old boy in Swansea Wales whose parents’ rocky marriage is made more rocky by the arrival in town of his mother’s old flame. Oliver’s efforts to preserve his parents’ marriage interfere with his efforts to win and keep his schoolmate Jordana as a girlfriend. He misjudges his priorities, sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong, and fails to stick it where it does. Submarine is an off-beat and likable coming-of-age film about a very humanly flawed young man who, like most of us, doesn’t always do the right thing and has to deal with the consequences. Shelved.

And there we see the shelf-space problem. Out of 12 possibilities, I’ve unshelved only three, and one of those was a close call. Perhaps I need tighter standards – or more shelves.

A Keeper and a Dropper (Start and double-click for full screen)


  1. I always enjoy Dust/Disk posts. The movie buff in me can't resist. :)

    I think I liked "Super 8" a bit more than you did. It really hit the nostalgia buttons for me. It felt a lot like the 80s kid adventure flicks, and that really resonated with me. But you're right, from a straight up story point of view it's just a solid tween adventure flick. But that nostalgia really adds another dimension for me.

    You're the second person I trust who said "House at the end of the street" wasn't worth it. I'll skip it.

    I finished reading "The Hunger Games" a month or so ago and really enjoyed it. I'm curious about the movie, especially since from what I've seen - the cast doesn't look very hungry. :) The issue you describe comes right out of the book - but I think in the novel you didn't notice it as much.

    I really wanted to see "Tangled". I try to watch most of Disney's stuff. They still do some solid animation when they put their minds to it. I had it in Netflix download for quite a while but never got around to it. Sadly it was pulled when they lost their contract with Starz. Luckily Netflix has pulled out a new contract directly with Disney, so I'm hoping this one comes back.

    "Fritz the Cat" is on my list to see. I've seen all of Bakshi's stuff from "Lord of the Rings" forward. But I haven't seen a lot of his stuff prior to it. "Fritz" is usually the one most folks sight as a must see. Just need to give it spin when my wife is away. Not her cup of tea at all.

    You're the second person I trust to tell me to check out "Submarine". I'll put it on my list.

    Thanks for the great mini reviews!

    1. I'll have to read "The Hunger Games" books, which also were recommended to me by a YA neighbor. You might want to try Robert Sheckley's cynically funny "The Tenth Victim" (a campily bad Italian movie was made in 1965) for another future with games, though held for a different social purpose. The games are offered as a kind of eugenics exercise: individuals volunteer to participate in order to win wealth and fame, while, since most die, society rids itself of its most violent members. Once a gamer signs up s/he plays 5 rounds as hunter and 5 as victim; hunters are assigned targets but victims don't know their hunters; the idea is simply to be the sole survivor of each round There is no special arena -- just the world at large -- and there are severe penalties for harming the wrong person. The idea of such games apparently has an atavistic appeal -- which the movie version heavy-handedly points out by having a scene at the Coliseum. Sheckley made a whole series out it, but this is the one to get.