WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 19

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 19th WWW:

1) Higher Learning:
Using a college campus as a microcosmic representation of America, John Singleton crafts a tragic tale of race, perception, and the unending cycle of violence. At key points, we see how some characters could almost have become friends, but mistakes and old ideas lead to a wider divide and an escalation of hatred. I've never seen this kind of performance from Michael Rapaport. He generally plays a doofus, even when he's injecting other elements into his roles, be they malicious or sympathetic. Here, a flannel-wearing hard rock listening kid trying to fit in and prove himself makes one wrong choice after another. You see why he makes the decisions he makes, and what pushes him down into the hole where he eventually ends up. He is at once a villain and a victim, and one of three key characters in the movie. Kristy Swanson plays the naive white girl afraid of the wrong things. She clutches her purse tightly in an elevator when she sees someone with darker skin, but walks the campus at night alone and gets drunk with the wrong frat guy. She learns, at a price, when to be vigilant and who to choose as her friends, things that cannot be recognized solely on the basis of race. Finally, Omar Epps is a promising young athletic superstar with an attitude. Under the tutelage of a professor played by Laurence Fishburne, he slowly learns to check his ego and work with a team. But pride is a powerful force, and he needs to experience great loss before he can fully appreciate what he has. The guy you overlook today could be your worst enemy tomorrow. The film has its share of hyperbole, and didn't represent my own college experience with diverse friends, but I recognize it as a metaphor for a larger picture as well as the way things might have been on other campuses, or even sections of my own outside my microcosm. I think things are better today; I hope they are. Singleton's final message of “UNLEARN” seems to urge one generation to forget the prejudices of a previous one, but perhaps there's a subtle difference since, to me, forgetting runs the risk of repeating past mistakes. If anything, the lesson should be to REMEMBER and LEARN.

2) Dead Presidents:
I remember the trailers for this movie when I was in college. My friend's sister even dressed up like one of the characters for Halloween. I always thought it was a heist movie, in which the characters wore white face paint with black hats to rob a bank. So when I finally did see it, I was surprised, not unpleasantly, to find that it was so much more. The heist is just one act near the end of a coming-of-age story of disillusionment in the Vietnam era. The youthful dreams of Larenz Tate and his friends, played by Chris Tucker and Freddy Rodriguez are shattered by their experiences in the war, and each returns changed in some way. The war portion of the movie is particularly brutal, on par with many of the major war films, and includes such things as a soldier toting around the severed head of one of their enemies. It pulls no punches. Honestly, any segment of the film, from the coming-of-age portion to the war to the heist contained enough material for one film, but since there's a logical progression from one to another, it makes sense why all are included. Keith David and Terrence Howard round out the cast in this rich tapestry. I don't recall how it did in theaters, but it was interesting that they marketed it with the focus on 15 minutes of the third act of a much richer tale.

3) Choke:
Sam Rockwell plays a sex addict who can't even abstain from sex with the girl he's supposed to be sponsoring in his support group, and a con-man who consistently fakes choking in restaurants to get people to save him, people who subsequently send him money or gifts. On the surface, he doesn't seem to have too many redeeming qualities, but because it's Sam Rockwell, you're compelled to watch this behavior and even root for him. When he's not working in a dead-end colonial reenactment job, he's visiting his mother in the nursing home, and her portrayal by Anjelica Huston adds a heart-breaking element to the film. She refuses to eat, and never recognizes her son, always confusing him for a lawyer or someone else, and she complains to Rockwell that her loser of a son never visits her. As the film delves into his childhood relationship with his mom through flashbacks, we gradually understand why he is the way he is, and even why he looks for strangers in restaurants to save him. When a beautiful young doctor at the home suggests a possible way to restore his mother, she sets off a chain of events that will make him question everything, after which nothing will ever be the same. It's a solid little film adapted from a novel by the author of Fight Club, though this movie has more of an independent, character driven flavor. It's definitely worth checking out. I never even would have heard of it myself, until I read on a message board for increasingly brilliant Community that a line of dialogue about a stripper named “Cherry Daiquiri” was a subtle injoke referencing a character cast-member Gilian Jacobs had played in the movie. It makes me wonder what other clever and obscure references the writers have sent sailing over my head, but I'm glad it led me to a good movie.

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



Blogger Krispy said...

Choke is on my "eventually list," mostly because I really liked the book and because Kelly MacDonald was so good in No Country For Old Men, and also because I generally enjoy Sam Rockwell.

I just talked myself into bumping it up in my queue. And you helped.

11/29/2009 7:32 PM  
Blogger MCF said...

Oh yeah, I should have said more about Kelly MacDonald(who I just referred to as "beautiful young doctor"). LOVED her in this, wondered where I'd seen her before, and then IMDB confirmed what you just reiterated. She has a lot more to do here than in No Country too, and I think you'll be pleased. Bump up away...

11/30/2009 12:26 AM  

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