Monday, August 25, 2008

Reno 911: Miami

Holy have I never watched Reno 911! before?

I have never seen a single episode, which is surprising given that I will watch any old crap on TV. And I mean anything. Yes, Paradise Hotel. Yes, Keeping up with the Kardashians. Yes, infomercial about Jack LaLaine's juice machine. Yes, that crappy show on Bravo about hair stylists. See what I mean? I have no filter. I WILL WATCH ANYTHING.

I can't say what possessed me to add Reno 911!: Miami to our Netflix queue but I'm so glad I did. Seriously, this movie is f-ing hilarious. Yes, it's stupid humor, but it's just done so well you can't help yourself but to love it. Think of it as Police Academy but with a bawdier, sharper sense of humor. And without that black guy who made funny noises with his mouth. BUT, with a a police guy who wears short shorts. It's a good trade.

If you haven't seen this movie yet, please rent it. As for me, I'm programming my DVR to start recording the Reno 911! TV series, just as soon as I finish all the episodes of Living Lohan. Ha, ha. Just kidding. Even I have standards.

The Gleaners and I

Sure, this French documentary about people who "glean" leftover produce from fields and pick over trash cans in France was an interesting subject. Yes, it won a zillion awards from prestigious critics and film festivals. Yes, I appreciate artsy for the sake of fartsy...


I think the fact that The Gleaners and I contained an entire chapter devoted to the documentarian watching her own lens cap bounce in front of the camera for five minutes tells you all you need to know.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

King Corn

“A documentary about CORN?” groaned Motley Husband upon seeing the telltale Netflix red envelope in our mailbox. Eye roll. Sigh. “Corn? Seriously?” His eyes had that furtive, escapist look a teenager gets when trapped with his grandparents at the Golden Corral during “All You Can Eat Soft Meat Tuesdays.”

I know, I know, corn doesn’t sound like the most exciting subject matter of all time, but bear with me because King Corn is a documentary every movie lover should see. It has all the best elements of a light-hearted documentary: an intriguing premise, affectionate characters, zippy storytelling and lovable storytellers.

King Corn is written by and stars Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis, two genial East Coast college grads who set out to spend a year living in Iowa to raise an acre of corn and try to follow it through the American food chain. It doesn’t take a genius to see what comes next: the ills of mega-farm grain production and the impact of the prolific High Fructose Corn Syrup in American life. Let’s break it down:

-Mega farms equal the death of family homesteads
-Mass grain production equals feedlot cows with a deplorable quality of life
-Corn Syrup equals obesity, diabetes and, oh, hell, Satan

There, now you know. Corn Syrup is Satan. If you go down to hell you’re going to find a little red bottle of Karo with horns and a tail. Now please enjoy the rest of that corn syrup-soaked Frito you were just eating.

My point is that King Corn doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about the cancerous impact of mega farm production, but it tells it in a way that is humble and compelling. This isn’t a throw-acid-in-your-face and make-you-rescind-your-god kind of documentary. It has a gentle, loping pace reflective of the landscape in which it’s set. The salt-of-the-earth farmers who graciously and affectionately help Ian and Curtis farm their acre of corn are, of course, the victims in this race to make more food, faster and cheaper.

King Corn succeeds by telling their stories with simple humility. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the representative of the corn syrup association who appears in the film comes across as the very face of evil (you know, Karo bottle with horns). “Corn syrup is what makes a wonderful variety of food so affordable for American families.”

I suppose she has a point. After all, if it weren't for corn syrup, we wouldn't have such national treasures as Mountain Dew Baja Blast and Jimmy Dean Chocolate Chip Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick.

And yes, I've had them both.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

There Will Be Blood

I know There Will Be Blood is a movie I was supposed to love. I was supposed to find Daniel Day Lewis' performance as turn-of-the-century oil prospector Daniel Plainview riveting and explosive. I was supposed to be intrigued by the ethical implications that arise when greed, oil and religion combine. I was supposed to be horrified by the shades of evil and inhumanity at every turn.

But in the end, this is the word that came to me: eh.

Don't hate me, but I just didn't care for it. Maybe it was the ridiculous title. Or maybe it was the idea of watching a movie centered on two of my least-favored subjects: oil and fanatical religion, but something set a bad taste in my mouth about There Will Be Blood.

The film is ambitiously epic, centered on the cruel, calculating Daniel Plainview as he heartlessly wrests land from the hands of hardscrabble families to amass his oil empire through California. His character is a chameleon of evil, morphing into a silver-tongued charmer and a brutally cruel murderer at even turns. Plainview's recurring nemesis in the film is a self-proclaimed man of god, played with eerily haunting realism by Paul Dano. Think Malachi from Children of the Corn only spookier.

When these two characters interplay, the film is electric. It is a gruesome portrait of religion put in the wrong hands. It is supposed to make you uncomfortable. It is supposed to leave you chilled. But did that make it worthwhile to watch? I'm not sure. In the end, this is what I felt: There are films that are difficult to watch but are ultimately rewarding to the viewer. And then there are films that are difficult to watch and leave you with nothing afterwards. Guess where I stand on this one.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


I had a college roommate who worked at a summer camp in New Hampshire. He claimed the biggest job he had to undertake was preventing the thirteen-year-old boys from dying of masturbation exhaustion. It’s not hard to imagine, given just a little taste of the hormonal teenage woes we saw in the documentary, Summercamp! Pair that with the bored, embittered counselors, the painfully awkward first-year campers and the “oh my god, how can you be this happy” camp owners and you have the stuff of a good documentary.

But somehow, it all fizzles in Summercamp.

Don’t get me wrong, there was great opportunity here. I was rapt with the bully who beat up other campers then cried every night because he missed his mommy. I loved seeing the camp counselors cockblocking lusty teenagers in the darkened shadows of the campfire. And who couldn’t be moved by the weird girl who carries around eight stuffed animals in her pockets to talk to when she gets lonely?

This was a movie of delicious subject matter put in what appears to be the hands of first-time film school students. It missed so much great opportunity to build a tantalizing story and the result felt like little more than a camcorder turned on and left in the corner.

But even inept film-making couldn’t dampen some moments of splendor in Summercamp, mostly captured through the unbidden moments of truth when campers spoke about life at home. Take the young boy saying he never wanted camp to end because when he goes back home, his dad is a lawyer so he’ll never see him much anyway. Or the girl who explains plainly that her parents want her to make friends at camp since she hasn’t been able to make any at home.

Such moments of innocent truth were heartbreakingly honest. I can only imagine how the parents of these children felt upon watching the film. I’d lay odds those kids got some big fat “mommy and daddy are sorry we’re a mess” presents under the Christmas tree that year.

My final take? Rent it if you’re just looking to feel mildly amused. You know, the same way you feel when you’re cruising through TV channels and you find yourself laughing at America’s Funniest Home Videos and then you’re overcome by shame and horror as you realize you were just watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. Don’t lie. We’ve all been there.