Monday, August 24, 2009

Moving Midway

A few months ago, I heard an interview on NPR with the maker of a documentary film about moving a house.  Well, if you describe it like that, it sounds pretty dull but the interview was anything but, so I dropped the movie into my rental queue.  I just finished watching Moving Midway and was riveted through the whole thing.

Midway Plantation was a pre-civil war plantation in Raleigh, North Carolina, and all that goes with it.  Six generations of the same family have lived there.  The film-maker, a cousin to the current owner, tags along as preparations are made to move the house and outbuildings a few miles away from the suburban sprawl that had grown up around it.

Even before land for the plantation's new location is secured, the unexpected occurs - a blood link is verified between the white family that occupied the main house and descendents of slaves and freemen that worked the land as recently as the 1880s.  The movie veers between the moving of the house to the introductions of what is now a huge extended family.

Moving Midway is a personal history lesson of the two branches of one family and by extension, the history of the civil war, reconstruction and jim crow.  As I said at the top, it is riveting and a wonderful documentary.

And as a guy, I gotta say that moving a house, with or without the history lesson, is really cool.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

OK, I've now seen it twice. I'm allowed to form an opinion. And it's kinda freaking me out that I am about to pan a Harry Potter movie.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was good in all technical respects but it was so dark, both in mood and photography I just couldn't get into it. I also never got over what they left out. Sure, the novel is 652 pages, so a ton of stuff had to be omitted, but in Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix, it didn't bother me so much. Then there's the gray, gray everywhere, almost like it was a black and white movie. Sure, it's a dark novel but there is still so much magic in Harry's life, both literally and figuratively, that this gray palated, dour mood movie just sucked all the fun out of it.

Post Grad

I didn't see any previews or commercials for Post Grad. It flew very far under my radar with one exception: I saw a single poster for it at the Maple Grove theater. A two-foot tall picture of Alexis Bledel got my attention.

I've liked Bledel since the first episode of Gilmore Girls in October 2000. Her career has been solid, if unspectacular, with supporting roles in mostly small movies. Post Grad is her first lead role and while it's not going to set the entertainment world afire, it's a decent movie.

Alexis plays Ryden, whom we meet on the morning of her college graduation. She's the salutatorian, a little wide eyed and a bit caffeinated, though not as caffeinated as Rory Gilmore. It doesn't take long for the perfect student to realize the real world is a tough place and before long she's back living with her parents. Her family, including a hypochondriac grandmother and curious little brother, is a bit crazy. A big chunk of the movie is Ryden getting her keister kicked at job interviews and rolling her eyes at the idiosyncrasies of her family.

My problem with Post Grad is that it plays things too safe. It wisely keeps the characters on this side of charactiture, and doesn't force the characters to do stupid things for the sake of stupidity, like many comedies. No, for a comedy, I didn't laugh that much. I enjoyed the movie but I didn't laugh. And for a movie with both Carol Burnett and Jane Lynch in it, I expect some carefully crafted, laugh-out-loud moments.

So Post Grad is a nice, decent, clean comedy and a good way to spend 84 minutes but it's not the funniest comedy around.


I've never seen the 1980 movie Fame. Not in the theater, not on HBO, not on VHS or DVD, not on late night commercial TV.  I can tap my foot along with the infectious theme song by Irene Cara but I've never had any desire to watch the movie.   According to IMDB there was a TV series based on the movie.  Nope, never seen even a frame of that either.

While watching previews before a feature the other day, I was treated to a preview of a new movie version of Fame.  Somewhere during the two minutes of that preview, the part of my brain that decides whether I go to a movie or not decided that I am skipping Fame when it opens in September.  It looked boring in 1980; it looks boring in 2009.  Whether it is truly boring or not is a discussion for another time.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

The first thing you need to know about GI Joe is that it is stupid. The second thing you need to know about GI Joe is that it is amazingly entertaining.

Before I got into the rhythm of the movie, it made me roll my eyes with its contrived plot, cliched dialogue and style over substance gadgetry, but then it broke through to the part of my brain that appreciates silly, violence and sexy.

It's mainly explosion- and car chase-porn, but like real porn (so I'm told), there is a place for it. The whole plot revolves around the bad guys getting their hands on some McGuffin missiles and doing untold mischief, so the good guys have to wreck Paris and the North Pole to save the day. It's set in the future so we have to cut the plot some slack but it's a joke anyway and the dialogue sounded like it was written with a "Wheel of Cliche." The car chases aren't always with cars - they use motorcycles, snowmobiles, personal submarines and Michelin Man suits.

What really made me lower my normal standards was early on. The bad guy's commandos did fierce battle with the good commandos. The bad guys had all kinds of high tech weaponry and the good guys had today-conventional weapons. Why would the bad guys need to steal missiles if they have invulnerable helicopters, impenetrable body armor and a hand-held pulse gun that makes all other weapons irrelevant? It was like a neon sign saying "Check your brain at the door. Nothing in this movie will make sense." I checked my brain and had a really nice time.

Some of the finer points:

The femme fatale wore a vinyl catsuit that looked like she stole it from Trinity in The Matrix. And no matter what she wore, no matter what bad-ass thing she was doing, her outfits were always open down to her mid-chest level.

One of the GIs Joe was played by Channing Tatum, who you might recognize upon viewing if you don't recognize the name. He was in one of my guilty pleasures, She's the Man, which I reviewed in 2006. In both movies he plays a character named Duke, which is trivially notable all by itself. However, in GI Joe, the 28 year-old Tatum plays a mid-30s Army captain. Three years ago, he played a high school senior in She's the Man. I thought he looked a little old then, but I went with it. Now that I've seen him as an adult - looking the same - I hope I can still suspend disbelief enough to continue enjoying She's the Man.

The bad guys want to launch a stinger-type missile at the Eiffel tower, so naturally they leave a building with a perfectly good view of the tower and basically destroy the city of Paris rue by rue in order to launch the missile from the building next door to the tower. Hmm. Wouldn't it be easier to launch from where they started without getting stuck in rush hour traffic?  It's a missile after all.

The President of the United States was played by a Welshman. Jonathan Pryce is good, but couldn't they have gotten Denzel to do a cameo?

The plot has - no spoilers here - a villain that built the McGuffin missiles needing to steal the missiles. Huh? He couldn't have made his own by running an extra shift or building a second factory? Did he learn nothing from Contact?

Towards the end, a good guy has a high-tech plane. He needs to get from Moscow to Washington in order to destroy a launched missile. He has 14 minutes. He makes it. I'll save you from doing the math - his plane flies faster than escape velocity. In the atmosphere. Without burning up or causing enough sonic booms to level all of Europe. Oh, am I being too logical again? Sorry.

I'll leave you with this one. The villain's lair is underneath the Arctic polar ice cap. Who are they kidding? When in the future will there be a polar ice cap?

I pick a lot but I did enjoy GI Joe. It's fun rolling ones eyes and laughing at inadvertently funny scenes, but like I all-too-often say about sci-fi shows, it could have been so much more with only a little bit of effort. Alas.