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Week in Review: 2/23/14

Movies I Watched in the Last Week

1) Drinking Buddies - I'm having a hard time finding something to say about this one.  It was well acted and the characters were believable and likable, but nothing really resonated with me.  I hate to say it, but I'm probably going to completely forget I ever saw this in like another three weeks.

My Rating:  3 / 5

2) The Act of Killing - Wow, what a powerful documentary.  I guess it comes as no surprise that one of the best-received movies of 2013 is good?  Anyway, just in case there's anybody out there who saw all the Top Ten lists from 2013 and they were on the edge of their seat wondering, "Did Josiah like this?  Is it okay for me to see it?", then rest assured:  The Act of Killing has my stamp of approval.  In all seriousness, though, this really is a must-watch.

My Rating:  5 / 5

3) Repeaters - This is one of those movies with a fairly obvious metaphor, but that's okay.  Subtlety isn't always strictly necessary, even if it is much appreciated.  The bigger problem is the opening act; the first twenty or thirty minutes really drag, and when you're re-doing the plot of Groundhog Day yet again, then you really need that opening act to be punchy.  It's kinda like doing a remake of It's a Wonderful Life and then taking forty minutes before putting George on the damn bridge.

My Rating:  3 / 5

4) Shut Up, Little Man - This is a documentary about barely post-adolescent men who recorded their neighbors' drunken arguments and released them through an underground circle of tape traders for ironic enjoyment.  Being that it depicts a pre-Internet, pre-Hipster world, I find it fascinating: young people doing dumb shit is just an endless cycle with no end or beginning.  It further supports my belief that my generation is not as self-absorbed and arrogant as people say, just that the flaws of youth are more visible than ever before thanks to globalization and the proliferation of webcams and social networking.  Shut Up, Little Man doesn't set out to validate this, but it ends up doing that unintentionally by exploring the unearned success of two guys who are still stuck in their twenties.

My Rating:  4 / 5

5) A Single Shot - This is such a slow-burn that it barely moves at times.  Some folks like that kinda thing, but it's not really my bag.  Introspective meditations on human frailty are okay, but I wish they wouldn't dress themselves up in thriller's clothing.

My Rating:  3 / 5

6) Cleanflix - This is one of the better documentaries I've seen since it holds true to the documentarian's oath of simply presenting facts.  The director says nothing and makes no judgment, but simply offers a history of various Mormon-based video editing services that intended to clean up films for release to their Mormon public.  It's a great documentary because it allows you to see - and sympathize with - all the points of view in the debate as to whether or not Clean Flicks should be allowed to operate.  A fantastic movie.

My Rating:  4.5 / 5

7) Pink Ribbons, Inc. - I wish I could've liked this one as much as some of the other documentaries I watched this week, because the childish "We can save the world!" attitude of anti-cancer walks, rallies, and events really gets under my skin.  The documentary touches on how that attitude is counter-productive when it comes to breast cancer research, and so for the most part it is a good watch.  But there's a lot of opinions espoused with not a whole lot of evidence or explanation to back them up, and it leaves me wondering how much of this documentary is actually based on science and research and how much is just a bunch of talking heads.  I know a few extra things about the history of the Breast Cancer Awareness movement, but I don't know anything new about cancer itself.  Sigh.

My Rating:  3.5 / 5

8) The Flaw - This is a documentary about the history of the mortgage crisis of 2008.  (Remind me to tell you about that some other time - it was actually the crisis of 2006, but I guess I was the only one who got screwed by it back then because 2008 was actually a fantastic year for me.)  Anyway, the documentary has a similar flaw to Pink Ribbons, Inc., in that there's a lot of opinions tossed around and I'm not sure how much of it is actually supported.  I consider myself fiscally moderate, with love for a healthy mix of both liberal and conservative policies.  Although I absolutely agree that the income gap of today is disgusting and abhorrent, I'm not sure if I agree with some of the interviewees' assertions that our system is fundamentally "flawed" in that assets are being sold only to the wealthy.  It's another one of those documentaries where they'd get close to providing evidence, and then they'd back off to make a joke or have a funny cutaway to something else.  Still, it's worth a watch.

My Rating:  3.5 / 5

9) The Pruitt-Igoe Myth - Another fantastic, observer-neutral documentary, much like Cleanflix.  It's just an objective history of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex, from the beginning to the end.  What I really appreciated about this movie is that it presented Pruitt-Igoe's demise as a complex web of interrelated factors rather than just one, simple answer.  It always bugs me when some kind of public works project or policy fails and then pundits will reduce that failure to simply, "Well, this was all No-Bama's fault!"  How is it that people with the inability to reason beyond a four year-old's perception of the world are able to make policies and get on camera?  Anyway, that's a rant for another day.

The point is, Pruitt-Igoe Myth gets into a lot more than just the political chaos.  It also deals with race relations, urban blight, suburban sprawl, aging technologies, and a whole host of other things that oughta be considered when you want to analyze poverty.  I also appreciated seeing some of the former P-I residents wax nostalgic about better days.  It's a good reminder that everything can have potential.

My Rating:  4.5 / 5

10) Tabloid - You know what, this was a good week for me to watch Tabloid. I just finished listening to the audiobook of Gone Girl last week, and (kind of a spoiler for Gone Girl) this documentary depicts a woman who is as close as possible to the real-world equivalent of that book's antagonist.  Joyce McKinney is a scary sociopath and one of those people who manage to make things worse for themselves by just talking way too damn much.  It's great, too, because you get to see her start out as a friendly, charismatic lady and then by the time you realize the extent of her demons, you start to feel a little bit icky.  It's the kind of evil that sneaks up on you.  (Also, a quick NSFW warning for folks who might be watching this one in public: there's a shitload of unexpected nudity, so watch with caution.)

My Rating:  4 / 5

11) The Tower - This was kind of a silly disaster movie about a tower on fire.  It's kind of like if Roland Emmerich directed a Korean movie.  It hits all the character notes that you'd expect - a single dad trying to do right by his kid, an impoverished mother trying to get back to her kids, the aging emergency worker who is one day away from retirement, the newbie to The Force who becomes the retiree's partner.... It's a big bunch of popcorn-movie fun, and I'd totally recommend it.

EXCEPT... for two problems.  One: it runs about thirty minutes longer than it needs to be.  The entire final segment where some characters have to (very mild spoiler) go through an underground tunnel feels completely tacked-on and kind of ruins the momentum of the movie up to that point.  And Two:  There's a sleazy Rich Guy character and his bitchy Rich Wife who act like jerks the whole movie and who are pretty much there just to die horrifically, but that never happens.  Why would you embrace all the other Disaster Movie tropes and then skip the one that literally everybody loves, The Tower?

My Rating:  3.5 / 5

Total: 11 Movies


Minutes I Spent Writing in the Last Week

1) Bodybloom - About 2 hours of story planning.

Total: 2 hours


The Winner:  Movies...

I'm not sure what the deal is with all the documentaries this week.  They're just easy to watch if you know you're going to be multi-tasking.  Maybe I should try watching them while doing some damn writing.