WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 7

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews as we reach my seventh WWW:

1) Kenny:
I had been hesitant to watch this Australian film, given the bathroom humor I was expecting from the cover art. But it had a surprising amount of heart, and you couldn't help but empathize with the main character. It's a mock documentary about a guy who's in charge of delivering and maintaining portable toilets at various outdoor events, but really it could be about any working stiff doing a thankless job and getting no respect. People vandalize, and turn around and tell him he should take better care of things. He gets yelled at by his customers and his superior. His father detests his career choice and won't let him in for a visit without making him change his clothes and sit on towels. His ex-wife barely lets him see his son. But, despite it all, Kenny remains chipper and upbeat, and has a great manner of dealing with and diffusing other people. His natural charisma makes you root for him in this low budget story, and hopefully it will make people rethink how they treat other people. We're all human beings with feelings, and we should respect those who do the things we're unwilling or unable to do ourselves. There are dirty jobs out there, but thank God there's somebody to do them.

2) Knowing:
This is a pretty cool sci-fi thriller with some genuinely shocking and disturbing imagery that, on more than one occasion, I had to rewind to see if I really saw what I thought I saw; computer generated effects are now indistinguishable from reality. Either that, or they really staged some of the disasters in the film. Nicolas Cage was Nicolas Cage, and if you like what he does then you'll like him here doing what he does, even as his forehead continues to grow up and back. As an astrophysics professor and a single father, he faces a real crisis of science and faith when his son retrieves a page of numbers left by a little girl in a time capsule 50 years ago. He deciphers a pattern, recognizing dates, casualties, and other figures from past tragedies, and apparently future ones. It seems similar to The Number 23 but goes in a very different direction, treading on X-Files or Fringe territory. Unfortunately, at this point it all begins to unravel, zigging when I'd want it to zag, and zagging when I'd expect it to zig. Characters behave irrationally and make stupid, unnecessary moves as they either accept fate or fulfill it through their own stupidity. As a hysterical mother, Rose Byrne channels so much Helen Lovejoy that I found myself laughing at parts of the film that weren't meant to be remotely funny. In the end, as the film hits the audience over the head with certain imagery, I think Christians will walk away annoyed at the clumsy attempt to give a scientific explanation for some biblical passages while atheists will be annoyed that the allusions are even part of the jigsaw tapestry to begin with. Scientologists meanwhile will probably applaud the Deus Ex Machina at the end. It looked great and Cage was solid, but the ending could use some work. It was still better than The Day the Earth Stood Still.

3) Taken:
Liam Neeson owns this role as an ex-spy who must attempt to save his daughter when she's kidnapped while vacationing in Europe. This tight little action thriller written Luc Besson has all the elements you'd expect, from the emotional relationships to the intense action and empathy for the unstoppable but pain-enduring hero. It gets off to a rough start as Maggie Grace tries too hard to act younger as the 17-year-old daughter and ends up behaving like a slightly special 12-year-old, jumping up and down and squealing at everything from a karaoke machine to a ****ing horse. She's annoying, but she's not on screen for long, and once she's “taken” the film really gets good. Neeson's character was one of the best, as we learn from slightly clunky exposition from his buddies, including Leland Orser, and from seeing him in action briefly on a tangent involving a singer. But soon, Neeson is making good on his promise to track down the bad guys, and the sex traders soon learn the fury of a father with his “particular skill set”. It's a very cool movie given exceptional credibility by Neeson's very presence, which saves it from being average or worse.

4) Wonder Woman:
The DC animated movies continue with an installment friends raved about. The animation is on par with previous productions, while the story tackles Diana's origins with an epic scope and vision reminiscent of 300. They don't hold back as there are numerous sword swipes, impalings, and a beheading before the title card is even displayed. As in the comics, Wonder Woman is born of clay, her mother's blood and a spark of the gods, and grows up sheltered in an island paradise far from the world of man. Keri Russell voices the titular warrior while Nathan Fillion steals the show as love interest Steve Trevor, a fighter pilot who crashes on the island and gives Diana a reason to venture back out into the world, especially when the villainous Ares(Alfred Molina) chooses that time to escape Amazon custody. The film offers everything from debates about the sexes to epic battles to a supervillain cameo, and even more beheadings and impalings. Did I mention the beheadings and impalings? The (I'm guessing former) U.S. president is presented in a slightly unflattering light as a drowsy old man quick to launch a missile, but other than that annoying bit of political slant bleeding into an animated feature it's an otherwise great adventure that left me looking forward to their next releases.

5) Bigger, Stronger, Faster:
This is a very thought-provoking and highly entertaining look at steroid use in America through the eyes of Chris Bell, as he examines how steroids have played a role in both the lives of his brothers and his heroes. It presents all sides of the argument, and ultimately focuses on competition more than anything else. Like most drugs, there are any number of variables, ranging from dosage to individual body chemistry. Excess is a problem(the phrase “testicular atrophy” was one that made me cringe), but it all comes down to the cause, what makes people push to be that big and strong to begin with, why our natural strength within our limitations isn't enough. There are cases of medical use where steroids help people, and cases where it goes too far. Did Lyle Alzado's steroid use lead to his fatal brain tumor? Is Arnold Schwarzenegger a hypocrite for decrying as a politician the very thing that made him diesel and famous in his youth? If an athlete takes a drug to enhance his or her own performance, it's considered cheating. Is it the same if a musician takes a pill to minimize his or her stress before a performance? The pharmaceutical industry bombards us every day with commercials for legal products and supplements we may or may not need, modern snake-oil salesmen at their worst. Sadly, people don't always see through the advertising. A photographer admits to taking before and after pictures of a model in the same day, exposing not only traditional techniques in lighting, makeup, and posture, but digital enhancements. I personally know how images can be manipulated on a computer; I wonder how much of the general population has that same awareness. The film draws on pop culture references like Captain America, whose own physique comes from a “super soldier serum”, a fictitious substance not all that different from steroids(though later writers tried to draw a differentiation between the substances). Today, scientists can manipulate genes themselves to produce more controlled results, evidenced by one ridiculously muscular bull in the film. Important questions are raised and illusions shattered. Rocky IV contrasted its hero with his Russian opponent in their training, as he chose an all-natural routine hefting logs and working out in a barn while his enemy spent time in a lab being injected by scientists. But in real life, Stallone was no different than anyone else, busted in Australia for importing steroids. What do we believe? One of the filmmaker's brothers is a high school coach who warns his students against the dangers of steroid use. He openly admits to lying to them about his own use, even as scenes of ideal youngsters are interspersed, with them eagerly professing their faith in the coach who achieved his own physique without cheating. In the end, it all comes back to competition. Want to be faster? Take a drug. Want to be a sharp pilot and stay alert in your fighter jet? Take a drug. Studying? A drug can help you do homework. For anything out there that an American feels inadequate about, there's a solution. There's also a price. Addiction. Health risks. False ideals and unrealistic unattainable goals. Because there's never a best, only better, and so no one ever gets where he wants to be.

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



Blogger Lorna said...

did I mention before that I think you have waaaaay too much time on your hands? Good reviews, though

9/07/2009 10:42 AM  
Blogger MCF said...

It's funny, I always feel like I don't have enough time.

9/07/2009 8:55 PM  

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