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Sleep Dealer (2008)
Underrated -- Culturally significant
Science fiction as a genre exposes two things about a culture: our hopes for the future, and our fears for the future. What foreign science fiction does for us then is tap directly into the hopes and fears of a culture that is alien to us.
The story of Memo mixes the Mexican condition with a cautious approach to an exciting technology. While "nodes" allow people to directly connect their brains to an Internet of sorts, "sleep dealers" construct cheap, unsafe sweatshops where noders can perform dirt-cheap labor for developed nations, without leaving home.
There are plenty of eye-opening layers of apprehension for the future that are taken straight from the Mexican psyche: the construction of the authoritarian Del Rio Dam in Memo's village echoes the ongoing "water rights" controversies throughout Central America; the closed border with America echoes isolationist fears; the ability of an American corporation to send warships into Mexican villages not only with impugnity but complete openness echoes fears of American corporate-driven hegemony.
Flag-wrapped Americans will deride this movie as Anti-American at worst; cultural ignorance at best. But it is a different sort of cultural ignorance that remains ignorant of the sentiments illustrated in this well-done foreign film.
Rice Girl (2003)
Could be the worst movie ever
No one is safe from the bad writing, bad directing, and bad acting of Rice Girl, particularly not the pair of sibling-rivalry wannabes with famous last names, nor even the recognizable names like Morita and Haglund. It is not even "goodbad", in the John Waters or Ed Wood way. The entire wandering, reason-defying plot resembles a hazy version of Western culture that is defined by 1 part Looney Tunes, 1 part Benny Hill, and 4 parts Three Stooges, executed without the spontaneity, originality, or panache of any of them. The only character that barely makes it out of this debacle alive, despite over-the-top, jerky facial expressions and movements, is Eddie the guardian angel. From the bad accents to the poorly written and delivered dialogue to the strainfully overexaggerated reactions, every moment of this movie is painful.
Prison Break: Manhunt (2006)
The final scene has haunted me constantly since seeing it... nothing has been able to get it out of my head. The futility, the utter and complete futility... Especially after the season 1 finale where Nick sacrificed his father's and his own life specifically to protect her. This was a disturbingly messed up way to terminate the legal action aspect of the story. We've watched Veronica and Nick follow the outside trails on this case for a long time. The sudden comedown from uneasy triumph to imminent and inescapable death -- I can't handle it.
Pretty much everyone's death on this show has been utterly meaningless. (The Company guy is the only one who IMO deserved it). I don't think I can watch anymore. (I liked watching Michael execute and adapt his master plan, but I think even that will start to fade from the plot, with Mahone unraveling it rapidly.)
I expect by the end of the series, out of Lincoln, Michael, and LJ, only one will still be alive. If that. As a result, I don't really see much point in watching how that happens.
Lots of good laughs, but leaves you wanting more
There's plenty of surface-level-comedy lines and dialogue here, especially from Ferrell and Caine. That's about the movie's only grace. Kidman's character isn't entirely believable; she's far too innocent and naive at a level that can't be explained away just from having been a witch for 30 years; but at least she's strong and helps tie things together. There's enough bit parts tossed in, played by recognizable comedy faces, as if it were a cameo opportunity for famous fans of the old show.
There are so many such elements thrown in, though, that we barely get a taste of any of them. Isabel's father is the only one that sticks around and becomes a fixture; others, such as Isabel's ironically named Aunt Clara, shows up once for a plot device and then is never seen again. In fact, this movie is heavy on quickly-disposed plot devices. After halfway through we find that Isabel is not the only witch around, and then... nothing; no one else ever finds this out and we don't see where it goes from there; it remains an unexplained secret that only the audience knows, all the way to the end.
In fact, you might think that since this is named Bewitched and has something to do with being in a show called Bewitched, that the show would be a major part of the movie. In fact it's not; the show is a barely-used plot device, of which we see disjointed (and redundant!) short scenes. I don't even think the episodes being filmed by the characters are even fully written.
Plenty of other things that deserve explanation are never explained, one particularly inexplicable apparition is explained away simply with "weird things happen when you date a witch".
The movie ends quickly once Ferrel and Kidman's characters iron out their crisis, with barely any time to relish in the outcome. Perhaps it's a setup for a sequel, but it feels more like someone decided the movie was out of time or money and wrapped it up quick.
Scene-goths' wet dream
A plot more fitting for a video game than a feature film doesn't help a
cast of actors -- who couldn't possibly be more out of place in a
vampire movie -- put together something worth watching. Nothing against
vampire movies, but being this many years since the genre-breaking
Interview, in order to provide some value to the theme, new projects
ought to at least feel more like an original story idea and less like
the result of any given Sunday's role-playing game. The movie is disappointing not only on an entertainment level, but even
on an empathic level. Anyone seriously considering watching this movie
will eventually find themselves not only not knowing who to root for,
but who the lead character should root for. But instead of being a
suspenseful and thrilling plot development, this process ends feeling
more like something out of the ending of a beach-blanket summer flick.
Sure, there will be almost token bits of grandeur, graphic effects,
gimmicky (and overshown) transformation sequences, and gore, in
sufficient detail deserving a movie focusing on them, but none in
consistent or sufficient amounts to lend anything to the feel of the
film -- each ends up feeling thrown in as if only there to satisfy
every available element of the genre, and then discarded or reused
tediously. Look for some stunning gothic costumes, but that's about all that shows
an ounce of filmographic originality in this movie.
What you would expect
Some should be warned in advance, that this being a John Woo film, it will lack certain accuracy to detail that may be jarring at first. In the very early scenes of the movie, Jennings tears apart the virtual innards of a computer by point-and-clicking a number of identityless shapes, in a very pretty visual sequence having no resemblance to software code or circuit design. The machine Jennings builds glows, hums, smokes, and hisses much like any other Hollywood supercomputer, and much unlike any real computer. Seattle locals will also scoff at the notion that Seattle will have developed an underground light-rail system by 2007; anyone familiar with local politics will agree that it's more likely we won't even have agreed to build such a thing by then. On the other hand, despite being filmed in Vancouver, the movie adds other details that subconsciously reinforce the notion of being in Seattle -- real street, intersection, and neighborhood names, real Washington state train destinations, real Washington license plates, even accurate replicas of Seattle police cars. But the point of this movie is not to explore 2003 (or 2007) technology, or even to accurately portray Seattle -- if you want either of those things, watch a documentary about those topics. While a lack of technical accuracy is sometimes disappointing, even techies must admit that Affleck in goggles wielding a soldering iron and a screen full of hex isn't as visually exciting as Affleck squinting at a wraparound display, dismantling an imaginary gadget in midair. And we've come here to see an action movie, not a technical training video, or a driving guide to Seattle. Paycheck delivers in that action, though it is not perhaps as action oriented as a kung-fu flick or blow-up spy tale. It bases itself largely around suspense, which is able to change and surprise, even after you have an idea how it's going to come; a bit like a cinematic Rube Goldberg invention. Paycheck adds in a dose of sociology and philosophy that will probably be lost on most of the young adult action-movie crowd. 9 of 10
Upright Citizens Brigade (1998)
Best underrated sketch show since Ben Stiller
Definitely masters of situational absurdity, handled with a skill not seen since Monty Python. Whether its seaborne pirates in a self-help group, an office building with no walls, or the Lady of the Lake becoming a frat boy's conquest, no situation is too weird for the UCB troupe to tackle.
UCB's sketch development is like nothing seen in this decade, with members testing their characters (and sometimes whole scenes) on the unsuspecting public, along with some various media pranks based on their sketches. "More chaos for everyone!"