Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #47: The Highest Pass

The more I thought about this one, the hokier it got - what's your take? (Originally reviewed for DVDsnapshot)

Our Take:

Adam is an amateur motorcyclist with less than a month's experience under his belt. Therefore, it makes perfect sense he should tackle an over 1200 mile trip through the Himalayas on a single-cylinder, 350cc street bike. There are accidents and altitude sickness to contend with. Will the guardian angels of the ignorant idiot protect him? What could possibly possess someone to think that's a good idea?

Murky motivations aside, The Highest Pass is presented as the story of a group seeking enlightenment by taking an incredibly dangerous, self-indulgent motorcycle trek on the world's highest and most dangerous roads; all under the guise of a “spiritual journey.” Considering there's a film crew and hired snowplow, they sure come off like “entitled yahoos with money getting irresponsibly out of their element.”

It's hard to be open to someone's story when (from, yes, perhaps a place of Western cynicism) you start by questioning why they so badly need an external validation of their spirituality from someone with the “other culture” seal of approval, in this case Eastern. The wisdom everyone attributes to poor Guru Anand, supposedly cursed with a prophesy of an early death, looks like nothing so much as bad judgment to the viewer. Yet once you invest in the idea that you're going to attain enlightenment, everything must be channeled through that lens. The riders almost fetishize this guru, who boasts a vanity practice named Sattva Yoga and YouTube videos (that underline how much the impression a documentary subject makes is through good editing), along with every elderly non-English-speaker they encounter.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Universe with the blonde Uhura

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"Uhura in an old Power Records Star Trek book- what's wrong with this picture? Evidently Power didn't secure all the likeness rights. (I was so distracted I didn't even notice Sulu was black...)"

Friday, November 16, 2012

One A Week Reviews #46: Shredder

I know I saw a trailer for this in the theater but I don't recall it ever actually coming out. After finally watching Shredder, I'm surprised even that trailer didn't go straight to video. Evidently, there must've been some culture war of skiers versus snowboarders going on a decade ago, and this is it's ugly byproduct.

Starring the voice of Aladdin, a gal from Guiding Light, and a buncha kids I've never heard of, this is a slasher for the snowboarding set. At least the killer has a decent motive for a change: bad manners. Right from the beginning, he's taking people out because they show bad etiquette on the slopes. We even get cutaways to the posted rules and regs to let us know what's a no-no. This sort of moralizing is more Serial Mom and Student Bodies than it is the basis for a real slasher flick.

We follow up a decapitated snowboarder with a nudity-free shower scene with a "killer's perspective" angle. Stealing from Halloween, The Funhouse, and Psycho, at five minutes in this film is stating "I am derivative crap." Our aforementioned "buncha" head up to a closed ski resort to shtup, drink, and "Shred." By 9 minutes in, even with a moment of "Girls Gone Wild"-type behavior that, while wasted on me, should still spark things up a bit, I had pretty much checked out. As these kids, who make the random counselors in a Friday the 13th seem like fully-fleshed out character studies, continue to drive through some admittedly beautiful Pacific northwest-type environs, I decided I wasn't going to bother to learn anyone's names.

This is one of those tongue-in-cheek "humorous" slasher flicks. Shovel-foreheaded Scott Weinger grew up to vaguely resemble Wings Hauser, and when they arrive at the camp has to go through a bunch of comic methods to get the chain off the gates (including torching it with a road flare). This is intercut with scenes of the pouty, unfaithful girlfriend in the front seat, and a couple of snowboarders, all scored to a song with the recognizable chorus "I wanna get laid."

(More reasons why you can read this review and never watch this flick, after the break...)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #45: Darling Companion

A movie so horrifying it should have come along for Halloween, the disastrous Darling Companion was originally reviewed for DVDsnapshot.

Our Take:

The Baby Boomer audience has found itself aged out of those prime demographics all advertisers and movie studios love to reach and, as such, is woefully under-served by today's film market. Lawrence and Meg Kasdan's independent feature Darling Companion seems targeted to reach the same share of this audience perhaps only currently served by Nancy Meyers. Here a group of characters - accomplished, successful, and thankfully more realistic than Meyers tend to be - gather for a weekend of short, supposedly heart-warming character story-arcs that, in the end, add up to little.

Baby Boomers Beth and Joseph (Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline) spar over an adopted stray dog (twee-ly named “Freeway”) that fills Beths's empty nest while also bringing their gratingly germaphobic daughter Grace (the usually wonderful Elizabeth Moss) together with the kind of dashing single Vet (hey, he's still a doctor) who mostly seems to only exist in movies and, one would assume, romance novels.

After Grace's wedding at their sumptuously-appointed vacation home, the remaining guests wind up looking for the runway plot-device... I mean, “dog,” while also dealing with their own issues. Beth and Joseph have to work on both their marriage and her obsessive attachment to the dog; an animal so worried about you'll want turn his name into a drinking game. Joseph's sister Penny (Dianne Wiest) and her new boyfriend Russell (Richard Jenkins) have to come to terms with, seemingly, the downward mobility that comes with a later-in-life change of career. Meanwhile, Penny's son Bryan (Mark Duplass) grow up and work on his new father figure issues with the help of Carmen the caretaker (Ayelet Zurer). She's a mystical gypsy so filled with folksy wisdom she was probably that stereotypical old chestnut, the “magical old black man,” in the script's first draft. Though she claims to have psychic visions of the dog, you suspect she might just like making rich people jump through hoops.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #44: 9/11: Day That Changed The World & 9/11: Stories In Fragments

Slightly belated, but here's a double feature of documentaries originally reviewed for Dvdsnapshot

Our Take:

Like every American, I vividly remember my 9/11/01. Seeing CNN footage of the first burning tower on television at my new part-time job, in a cafeteria at Universal Studios theme park decorated with Dr. Seuss characters, and not grasping the catastrophe that was starting. I didn't grasp, and it wasn't mentioned, that it was a 747. I also wasn't familiar with just how big those buildings were, so I made an assumption about flight plans and figured a prop plane, at most a small commuter jet, had collided with the building. Hearing news about a second plane while training for my new job. Finally being told the park would be closing, an unprecedented decision of caution, at noon so we could all head home. Going first to the television to see the churn of rerun footage while newscasters tried to grasp the events. Towers constantly, repeatedly falling. Jumping online to the now archaic message board where all my dear college friends touched base and worried about Ali getting home to Jersey, and Liz's cousins based in the same area of Manhattan. The growing dread of knowing profound change is happening, the future is uncertain (and moving to a tourism based economy the month prior was, in retrospect, a bad idea). My story of that day is small. My mundane details seared into memory by large, tragic world events. These documentaries share the big stories.