Wonderland seems like a very scary place to visit actually, like the kind of place where I’d lose my lunch money!
A pretty great week for movies this time around,
October Sky (1999, Joe Johnston, United States Of America) ***1/2
There’s something about uniquely American ideals that Joe Johnston gets. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that other countries have ingrained desires to push forward, explore the unknown, break free from the ties that bind, and make your own life. But, those are ideals tied to being American, especially what most people think of as the classical American developmental years after World War II. Mr. Johnston infuses some pulp and the idea of American can-do into a film that ends up being a very good drama. October Sky is a no frills sort of film, the type that has a goal in mind and works towards it. That approach helps to elevate the film to more than just a sentimental look at a group of kids and a specific family. The acting also elevates the film, especially the understated greatness that has come to be associated with Chris Cooper. It’s not a perfect film, but October Sky is a simply made drama that hits in all the right places.
Una Semana Solos (A Week Alone, 2007, Celina Murga, Argentina) ***1/2
At first I wasn’t sure what to think of Una Semana Solos. The class message came across to me as too rote and too obvious. The approach was sparse and bare, lacking a spark of momentum that I felt the film needed. Then I was taking a shower & started thinking about elements within Una Semana Solos and I started to like the film a lot more. Class is a minor issue within the film, parenting is in actuality the main issue within Una Semana Solos. We see the kids in the film playing video games that are decidedly non-violent, avoiding TV for the most part, and quickly moving away from a pornographic movie they stumble across. These are all important facets of the film because they highlight how some of the kids in the film still turn towards violence. They don’t have a visible reason to, it is the invisible parents who appear to be the main cause of some kids turning towards violence. No matter how adult we may like to think that kids are becoming, there are some of them who still need a strong parental presence. Una Semana Solos presents that idea, and it does so through a filmmaking style that occurs at a meditative pace to allow the viewer to truly think about what they are seeing. I didn’t initially like Una Semana Solos, but after a while I grew to really like the film and it’s sparse visual style that led to rich thematic depth.
Let’s Make Love (1960, George Cukor, United States Of America) **
Marilyn Monroe is as magnetic and charming as ever in Let’s Make Love. When she is on screen the movie pops and I felt that I needed to be watching this movie. When Miss Monroe is off of the screen I failed to understand the need for this film. The class stuff is old hat, and the Broadway comedy bits aren’t funny. Mainly the fault is with Yves Montand and his inability to be anything more than a wet paper bag. He lacks charisma of any sort, even when Miss Monroe is doing her damnedest to make him interesting he still comes across like a vanilla flake. Miss Monroe tries, she certainly does, but there’s not much she can do with co-stars who are bland and a director who isn’t interested in directing.
Phoebe In Wonderland (2008, Daniel Barnz, United States Of America) ***1/2
I used to post at a message board where there was a guy who railed against everything children. He would constantly belittle children, their intelligence, and their complexity. I was of a different mind, and honestly felt that the approach this certain person was taking was ignorant and downright stupid. Phoebe In Wonderland is a wonderful little film that extols the complexity of children. They can’t be put into neat little boxes with labels affixed to their every action. They suffer, they have fun, they hurt each other, and they hurt themselves. They have problems, and we, as adults, are not always able to adequately process their problems and help them deal with them. Elle Fanning is the impetus for all of my thoughts, because her amazing acting overcomes just about every flaw found in Phoebe In Wonderland. It doesn’t matter that the youngest daughter is a tad too precocious, or that Daniel Barnz’s film is not as open visually as it should be. What matters is that the themes of the film, the tone of the film, and the wonder of the film are a home run thanks to the delightful acting from Miss Fanning.
The Landlord (2007, Drew Antzis & Adam McKay, United States Of America) ***1/2
The only thing I can say about this short is that it’s very funny. The conceit is a funny one, the execution is bare bones but it helps bring out the comedy even more. I laughed throughout the entire two minute run time. I love Will Ferrell, what can I say other than I found him funny, the little girl funny, and everything about The Landlord short funny.
The Horribly Slow Murderer With The Extremely Inefficient Weapon (2008, Richard Gale, United States Of America) ***
It’s funny, and smart, and it features surprisingly well done production values. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that it went on for about five or so minutes too long. I know that the length ties into the theme of redundancy, but after a while the humor gets so redundant that it’s not funny. The Horribly Slow Murderer With The Extremely Inefficient Weapon starts off funny, it’s a brilliant fake trailer premise, but as it went on it wore on me and I was kind of happy when it ended. It’s certainly not a badly made film, and I appreciate the ingenuity. but with some edits to the run time it could have been so much better.
Extract (2009, Mike Judge, United States Of America) ***
Mike Judge’s latest film plays it too safe. It’s funny, and features a cast who give good performances and are willing to go along for the ride. But, the screenplay sets up situations where the film appears really ready to get biting with its commentary. For reasons I don’t understand Mr. Judge pulls the film back before it can sink its teeth into the viewers flesh. That gives the film an odd aura, because I knew I was watching a Mike Judge comedy, but it felt too safe and serene to really be a Mike Judge comedy. I did laugh though, and I did enjoy myself overall, but I wish Mr. Judge hadn’t shown so much restraint with Extract.
It was a tight race for the top spot this week. Three or four of the films really impressed me, but as per usual there can only be one winner. This week that winner, and taking home movie of the week honors, is Phoebe In Wonderland. Until next week, watch more movies!
Bill, I have a big soft spot for October Sky. You’re right that the acting really helps, especially from Cooper. I think it’s a great story and inspiring without being too obvious or cheesy. I’ve been sucked into it on TV a few times recently. I agree about Extract, which was okay but seemed to pull back from being tougher.
Did you notice in Extract that Mila kunis just disappears for the third act? I wonder if they shot something they cut, but it was so sloppy! She just disappears and someone mentions that she skipped town, and the character is never resolved, after all that build up. It was really weird!
Dan- October Sky is, I believe, another great piece of Americana from Joe Johnston. Not everything he does is great, but I generally love him as a filmmaker because when he is one he makes films that I love because they get at the heart of the idealized American experience.
Adam- Yep, that was something I thought about as the film climaxed. Maybe it had to do with the fact that she felt out of place throughout the entire film. I like her, Clifton Collins Jr., and Jason Bateman. But, her interactions with both of them weren’t lighting my screen on fire with chemistry.