Saturday, January 01, 2011

Retrospective veg-out

I finally had time to re-order my Netflix queue and discovered I did, in fact, watch a few movies in the past 6 months.

Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary was, perhaps unbelievably because it's just 80+ minutes of one woman talking about her wartime work experience, completely riveting. The woman happens to have been one of Hitler's personal secretaries, and the entire film is her recounting the last days in the bunker as the war. Her own story is captivating and necessarily includes a reflection of apolitical attitudes that enable political atrocities, the cults of personality and power, and wartime psychological survival. The fact that the film isn't a documentary or a biography is especially powerful - for almost an hour and a half, the viewer listens to this one woman's tale about a job she once had, with the horrible burden of knowing about the rest of the war and a continent that burned around her.

Unfortunately, other films I watched to escape election madness were not as disturbingly mesmerizing.

Once bored me, though I love its concept. The music was beautiful and deserved to win the Oscar it did. But the story itself didn't grab my attention: two musicians meet randomly on the street in Dublin, form an awkward friendship, and eventually record an album together. Watching it was slightly uncomfortable at times - perhaps it was the combination of the vague and unconsummated sexual attraction coupled with the undeniable musical compatibility of the two characters that made the storyline more tragic than bittersweet. I appreciate that the fleeting moments of an incomplete relationship in the larger completion of painfully beautiful music are what make the film a true artistic statement. It was just a little tedious to watch...

The Namesake also bored me. I didn't read the book, and I admit I only put the movie in my queue because Kal Penn stars in it. It turned out to be a lot longer than I thought, for a story that is told frequently for a variety of cultures and communities. This incarnation of the struggle-between- immigrant-parents-and-identity-forging-second-generation-American focuses on a Bengali family. I sense that the film doesn't do the book justice, that the book probably has more nuanced descriptions of the characters and their relationships with each other.

Similarly, Kung Fu Hustle quickly tired me. I loved Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer, but Kung Fu Hustle had too many dark and violent scenes to justify the enjoyable over-the-top martial arts spectacle. In the story, a wannabe gangster pretends to be part of a huge organized crime syndicate that has taken over Shanghai, and then hides out in the one poverty-stricken section of the city that the gangsters haven't taken over. An urban kung fu war ensues.
As in Shaolin Soccer, martial arts are portrayed as a marker of cultural authenticity: the ghetto where outcasts from all over China live "happens" to harbor so many kung fu masters who are too modest to display their skills until the hour comes when they have to save their community from the Western-styled gangsters clad in suits and top hats. There were also a ton of other plot similarities to Shaolin Soccer (the love interest as "girl from traumatic childhood memory" is the most obvious). I don't really like gangster films in the first place, so maybe I should have expected to not really enjoy this genre-blending parody of one.

Netflix Instant Viewing of 30 Rock, The Dollhouse, and Weeds made up for some of these recent disappointing movie choices.

Goal for 2011: visiting the library more! Since May I haven't had much time to read. And since May, the library clearly needs my overdue fines to stay afloat with all the budget cuts...

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