I'm stuck on my intro. It's all a'jumble.
Priming the pump (but my pump primes backward. Come on, SK fans. Give that some love.) with some blogginess.
We signed up for Blockbuster's unlimited $30/month movie rental. It's pretty rad. You can get two movies out at a time, but only from the same store. That's a drag, but we've watched scores of movies in the last three weeks. I usually have no attention span for films, but they're growing on me.
So here's a slice of what we've been watching. First, the thumbs-down films.
Very Bad Films
Hot-Tub Time Machine: This film came recommended by people who I consider to be very discriminating. First, context: I hated Knocked Up, 40-Year Old Virgin, and The Hangover. When a film is described as "[one lame film] Meets [another lame film]!" I always worry. In this case, The Hangover Meets Back to the Future provided predictable 12-year-old-boy humor. Despite my love for John Cusack--and I even love the new bloated John--I hated HTTM. I like comedy, for sure, but I like my comedy less obvious. The back of the case said, "Wildly inappropriate!" To me, events don't have to be about pooping, sex, or uncomfortable social situations to be funny. I found it boring in its mass appeal. (First clothes go 80s, now film?) This opinion may make me sound horribly stodgy or prudish, but that's the way I roll.
Worth a Look
BBC's Life Series: I love documentaries. I love nature. But this series (narrated on DVD by Oprah Winfrey) tends to drag. It's fine for a go-through while on the treadmill or grading or doing something else, but the narrative isn't enough to keep it super interesting. I had high standards for Life, since Blue Planet was riveting, but Life often recycles footage, making for a pretty lackluster experience. For example, the same 15-minute vignette about the Ibex's stunning agility in the Mammals section shows up in the Predators section and later in the Biosphere/Life section. I get that providing this much quality footage costs a lot of time and energy--and the footage is stunning--but I also grew bored. I never get bored with documentaries. For what it's worth, the section on fish was really amazing. Watch Life once for the rich visuals, and then call it a day.
The Damned United: I like sports movies, as long as they aren't solely sports movies and as long as they don't play on reduced and/or trite ideologies. (I really hated Varsity Blues and Remember the Titans for their simplified plots.) The Damned United tells the true story of Brian Clough, who coached Leeds United (soccer) for 44 days in 1974. If you were into the World Cup, or any part of soccer history, you'll like the intricacies of this film. It does require a fair amount of knowledge about soccer to fully appreciate, but the acting alone makes up for the price of admission. Clough presents a coach who's easily to dislike but who also brings a sense of ethics to a club short on it. The narrative is complicated by the political imperative for these small English villages to present public images of themselves and, as such, becomes a story much larger than one man's desire to coach a particular team.
Knowing: I was on the fence about watching this film. Sci-fi can go horribly, horribly wrong so quickly, and Nick Cage tends to make films go horribly, horribly wrong. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Knowing offered a plot line less predictable than most sci-fi out there, with characters more developed than most. (I'm looking at you, Moon.) On the surface, it offered a pretty enjoyable story about numerology, foretelling, and the destruction of the human race. Underneath, Knowing, at the title suggests, threw into question exactly what we can know and the effects of action on this knowing. Cage's lack of animation actually supported his role as an astrophysicist, so kudos for that choice. (Much like Keanu's lack of inflection in The Matrix, this inability to act didn't detract from the character as it might in other roles.) Though I didn't like the trite, everyone-embrace-the-end-of-the-world-so-we-can-go-to-Heaven ending, I do like that no deus ex machina showed up to save the day. (I'm looking at you, 2012.)
Quite Good, Actually
Whip It: Any film described as "brimming with girl power" usually gets put back on the shelf; however, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is really, really good. It doesn't pander, and it doesn't cast women as 1) helpless waifs; 2) man-hating bitches; or 3) waifs-turned-man-hating-bitches. While Roller Derby, as a sport, interests me somewhat (a colleague used to be a Roller Derby Girl and assures me that I should definitely do it), its overwhelming popularity and embrace by the hipster community has pretty much turned me against most major iterations. As much as I disliked Ellen Page in Juno--and I think I am one of four people who hated that film--I found her to be captivating in Whip It. With a cast that includes Daniel Stern, Juliette Lewis, and Jimmy Fallon, the relationships between the Roller Girls (the "Hurl Scouts"), Bliss (Page), Pash (the best friend), and Bliss's parents becomes a tableau for examining self-knowledge in a very visceral way. Rent it NOW. You'll laugh, and, if it's possible, feel a little nostalgic for high school.
Who Killed the Electric Car?: I've been waiting two years to see this film, and I'm glad our Blockbuster carries it. It documents the story of the EV1, an electric car produced by GM in the 1990s in response to California's strict no-emissions laws. The EV1 was fully electric, could be fitted with a battery to get 300 miles before it needed charged, and could outperform many gasoline cars in terms of speed and handling. So where is it? GM recalled the EV1--which you could only lease--and crushed them all. The only ones out there live in automobile museums, and those have been deconstructed so they don't run. The film cites a number of major players in the revocation of the electric car (which, had the technology continued to advance, would have likely given us wide-consumer access to fully electric vehicles by now). Culprits include the government (a $100,000 tax credit for SUVS, or a $4,000 tax credit for electric cars), big oil (GM's general manager in cahoots with Saudi Arabia? Okay!), state governmental bodies (California dropped the ball and the rest of the country pays), and consumers (who feel "uncomfortable" with an electric car but safe in a Hummer). An interesting historical tid-bit: With the move away from the electric car in the 1990s, we saw the rise of these idiotic giant vehicles like the Hummer and International's version of a consumer "SUV" that can haul 6 tons. That's right: 6 tons. If you're interested in alternative energy, and why we haven't yet gotten there, you should pick up Who Killed the Electric Car.