I know I just got done saying I wasn’t going to see any movies this time around. But I’ve let a few slip in. I’ve done my best to limit myself only to movies I really wanted to see, instead of just using the VCR as a way to pass time. (I don’t have my own TV, so until now I haven’t been able to see these movies on my own).
Also there were a couple times when I used movies as a way to entertain, like when I spent the afternoon with the model, or when Shoko wanted to watch a video together. And then there were just a few guilty pleasures that snuck in. Anyway, here are my brief thoughts on what I’ve seen so far.
Movies I really wanted to See
1. Team America
American movies are really big in Japan, but comedy doesn’t always translate as well as “Harry Potter”, so this was a hard movie to track down. It never got a big theatrical release, and was hidden in the back of the local video store.
This movie had come highly recommended from a number of people I respect. So I was very disappointed in it. As political satire, I thought this movie was very weak. Instead of intelligent political commentary, it was political humor in the “Saturday Night Live” tradition, where slapstick humor and cheap jokes are supposed to pass for satire.The film slashes at both sides, the premise being that the right is more concerned about kicking ass than they are about seriously solving the world’s problems. And that outspoken film actors on the left don’t know what they’re talking about, and have no business in politics. Both of these are rather simple concepts that are flogged endlessly for the duration of the film.
Since the film cuts both ways, I don’t want to sound too defensive about the jabs at the left. But really I don’t understand why the right spits so much venom at outspoken movie stars. As Jon Stewart said to Bernie Goldberg: "I wish smart guys like you spent less time worrying about Barbra Streisand but more time worrying about Richard Perle or Karl Rove, or whoever the Democrats had in those positions during the Clinton years."
Aaron, although he appears to have now retired from blogging, once had an excellent post 2 years ago on this very subject. (I linked to this long ago, but it's worth re-reading).
2. Bananas (Woody Allen)
I once read that the success of “The Simpsons” was its ability to mix highbrow humor with lowbrow humor. If that’s true, Woody Allen seems to have mastered this formula decades before. His lost his touch a little bit now, but his old movies are genius.
This 1971 film is a satire on Latin American revolutions, American television coverage of those revolutions, and the involvement of the CIA and FBI. There are all sorts of cultural references thrown in, from Bobby Seale’s being bound and gagged at his own trial, to the infamous baby carriage scene from “The Battleship Potemkin”. Mixed in with this is just a lot of silly humor. My favorite part was when Woody Allen was acting as his own lawyer, and called himself as a witness. He asks himself questions, and then runs back into the witness stand to answer, and then runs back to the lawyer’s platform to argue with himself.
And yet amid all the sillyness, a lot of good points get made. Like when Ms. America is asked if Mr. Mellish (Woody Allen's Character) is a traitor to his country, she answers: "I think Mr. Mellish is a traitor to this country because his views are different from the views of the president and others of his kind. Differences of opinion should be tolerated but not when they're too different. Then he becomes a subversive mother." I think this still describes the views of many on the right.
I know I’m always talking about how old movies are better, and in that sense I’ve become a bit of an old codger before my time. But I challenge anyone to watch “Team America” and “Bananas” back to back, and then think about how far political satire has fallen.
3. The Life of Emile Zola
Although having just said, this is an example of an old movie that is clearly showing its age. In some ways I guess movies are improving, and comparing old and new biopics is a good way to see that. Old biopics have a need to white wash their subjects, get ride of all subtlety, and have sappy sugary sweet Hollywood endings.
Also the subject of Emile Zola’s life is too vast for this movie, and the rough cuts and jumps show. The Dreyfus affair alone would have easily been enough for a whole movie. If this movie would ever be remade, maybe it should focus on just this one episode, just as “Capote” only focused on one episode in Capote’s life.
4. The Assassination of Richard Nixon
I find myself in agreement with a review of this movie I once read. All the themes in it, the isolation of modern life, and idea of a man to prove his existence by assassinating a political figure, have already been done, and done better, in “Taxi Driver” (by Calvin’s own Paul Schrader). Of course “The Assassination of Richard Nixon” has the advantage of being a true story, and that adds to the interest, but that only gets you so far.
5. Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
I think this was a project that was doomed to failure from its inception. It’s impossible to capture Douglas Adam’s dry wit on the big screen. Everyone gets full marks for trying, but I think we all knew the film could never live up to the books.
6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
This is another movie I’ve wanted to see for a long time (I think Phil had some thoughts on it a while back), but I had difficulty tracking down in Japan.
I enjoyed this the most of all the Wes Anderson films I’ve seen so far, and I think this was mainly because Bill Murray was finally put in the spotlight instead of a supporting character (like he was in “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenebaums”). Bill Murray and Wes Anderson seem to bring out the best in each other.
Like all Wes Anderson films, however, this has a tendency to go on for a little bit too long, and get bogged down in the middle. I had the same criticism of “Rushmore” and “Royal Tenebaums”
7. The Lady Killers
I know this movie got a lot of bad reviews, but I enjoyed it. Tom Hanks was a bit over the top at times, but it was still a really funny movie
Movies I watched for entertaining purposes
1. A Series of Unfortunate Events
Eeh, not bad, but not great either
I like musicals, but musicals aren’t made to be watched, they’re made to be re-watched. The first time you watch a musical it’s incredibly frustrating to be caught up in the plot, and then to have the story be stopped every 5 minutes for another song.
1. Dodge ball
During my last few weeks at the elementary school I taught the kids how to play American Style Dodgeball.
Dodgeball is very popular in Japan (apparently the game originated in Asia), but the rules are a lot different. If you catch the ball, nothing happens. No one gets out, no one gets back in. So there’s no incentive to throw carefully. In my opinion that really spoils a lot of the game. Also, if someone gets tagged out, they don’t have to sit down and wait to get back in. Instead they simply move to the outskirts of the enemy side, and they can try and get the other team out from there.
Of course no one likes to sit out, but I think part of the suspense of the game is the fear of getting out and having to just sit down and watch. Call me culturally biased, but I much prefer American Style.
So I was very happy to see this movie promoting the correct, American way to play the game. (Cue patriotic music, and a scene of me wiping away a proud tear against the backdrop of the American flag)
Link of the Day
War Crimes in Iraq by Noam Chomksy