This weekend brought me to the doorstep of an American legend, a satirical American legend, an American myth turned South African legend, a beloved science fiction franchise, and a horror movie that was oddly reminiscent of a delicious candy bar. Sa da tay, my damies! This is the movie weekend that was.
Pootie Tang (2001)
I had known a little about Pootie Tang for some time. Namely, I knew that Louis CK had written and directed it. What I didn’t know until this weekend is how completely hilarious it was, a perfect send-up of pop culture infatuation, blaxploitation films, and kung-fu films, all wrapped up in surrealism and peppered with an all-star cast of comedians. The roll call includes J.B. Smoove, Chris Rock, Dave Attell, Wanda Sykes, David Cross, Laura Kightlinger, and Todd Barry. At times, Pootie even takes on a superhero bent, right down to the back story. What amazes me is the reception this film initially received. It has a 29% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and just a 4.4 rating from IMDb viewers. I’m not sure I’ve ever disagreed more with the popular opinion on a film. The AV Club placed it in their Cult Canon, lest you think I’ve lost my mind and that I’m championing a turkey.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
It’s hard not to be skeptical of a Jackie Robinson movie. Robinson borders on American sainthood and the tales of his arduous journey through baseball’s color barrier are well known. And that leaves any cinematic interpretation of his life wide open to the possibility of a paint-by-numbers affair. Brian Helgeland’s 42 doesn’t avoid those land mines. You could practically cook up a bingo card with what transpires. Teammates petition against him? Check. In the Negro Leagues, Jackie won’t let his team buy gas at the gas station that won’t let them use the bathroom? Check. His teammates finally, grudgingly, accept him? Check. Branch Rickey is a grizzly, elderly, grumbling, religious man who believes in doing the right thing? Check. It’s all there. That last part about Rickey is especially annoying to me because Helgeland’s film took square aim at the Rickey myth early in the film. Early, Rickey’s true historical intentions in breaking the color barrier are shown- to make money and win baseball games with extremely talented baseball players who didn’t cost as much as their white peers. But at the end, Helgeland let him off the hook, returning him to the clichéd and at least partially inaccurate status as someone with nothing but pure intentions.
Having said all of that, it probably sounds like I didn’t like 42. That’s not the case. It succeeds on two levels. First and foremost, it’s not JUST about Jackie Robinson. So much of it is about his teammates and rivals, and their acceptance (or lack thereof) of him. Robinson’s story is infinitely more important, but it’s also so well known. It was refreshing to see a slightly different approach to the Robinson legend. Second, clichéd or not, it’s important and appropriate to expose new generations to Robinson. His life, and specifically breaking baseball’s color barrier, was important to this country. America isn’t America without baseball, and baseball isn’t America’s national pastime without Jackie Robinson. It’s as simple as that. No amount of repetitious inspiration can diminish that.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The End of Summer (1961)
(takes off film nerd hat) I have tried at great length to like Yasujiro Ozu. I won’t deny his skill as a filmmaker and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone their enjoyment of his films. That said, I have tried and tried and tried again, and Ozu does so little for me. I’ve found almost all of it mind-numbingly boring. It may be time to come to terms with the very distinct possibility that Yasujiro Ozu just isn’t for me. (puts film nerd hat back on, moves on to some other acclaimed art house director)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars, I guess
Open Water (2004)
The film is imperfect, but director Chris Kentis did a very good job of finding a way to buy plenty of suspense in the bargain bin of a low budget. The minimalist style, captured with a guerrilla/documentary-style eye, is a bit too minimalist at times, but again- it’s precisely that style that helps give the film its suspense. It’s short, sweet, and effective, even if it is lacking in any sort of character development. Essentially, I’m a little more impressed than I ever anticipated. The true story that Open Water is based on is completely fascinating, by the way.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Under the Bed (2012)
The concept is rather simple, really- two brothers, approximately 15 and 9 (my guess, anyway) must slay the monster that lives under their bed. There’s also a little dash of darker pasts, a death in the family, and an unbelieving father, all of which serves as a simple skeleton for the film’s meat- the monster under the bed and the kids. Thematically, Under the Bed borrows heavily from various 1980s kids vs. the supernatural movies, but gives it a much darker and occasionally more gory, modern sensibility. The creature design is sound, and the slow-burning script eventually pays off. It’s a solid effort for a young horror director on a budget.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt is an occasionally hokey, often atmospheric, mind-bending and satisfying jaunt across tried and true territory. The story itself has been done a thousand times over- a tortured, drunk writer totes his own demons into a strange locale, and his own personal nightmare ensues. See The Shining; 1408; and In the Mouth of Madness, amongst others. Where Coppola takes it, however, is wild and it revels in everything from ghosts to vampires to Edgar Allen Poe, sort of an auteur’s attempt at making a B-movie quilt homage to his beloved genre. It worked for me, but apparently my weekend is all about disagreeing with popular opinion. Twixt took a beating from critics, up to and including several that I trust the most. I noticed at least one mentioned that it has the potential to become a cult classic down the line, and I think that’s a fair assessment. Or maybe it’ll just whither away and disappear into the fog on the lake (and high-five to you if you get the reference).
Side note: my love of Twix candy bars possibly influenced this review
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Let me first say that I am 100% NOT a Star Trek person. I don’t mean that in any insulting way. It’s just that I feel like a stronger knowledge of the TV show would likely have informed my opinion of this film differently. Then again, if I was a Trekkie or whatever, I probably wouldn’t be just now seeing this movie for the first time at age 37. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a movie that wants to be epic. It tries to be epic- EPIC!- at every turn, but instead it comes off clumsy and a little bland. There are some decent ideas here but they aren’t fully formed. I didn’t exactly hate it, but I also wouldn’t recommend it if you aren’t already interested in the Star Trek mythos.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
Generally, I avoid documentaries if only because after half of it, you get the point and the other half is an exercise in excess. Searching for Sugar Man avoids all of this, somehow- impressively- burying a twist of sorts in the documentary. The search for 1970s singer-songwriter Rodriguez is a fascinating one, especially the urban legends about his various fates. It all results in, In the words of one of the later interviewees in the film, a once-in-a-lifetime event. Helping matters is that Rodriguez’s music is right up my alley, a classic late 60s/early 70s singer-songwriter and folk artist. It’s a musical genre I can never pass up.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars