A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 579 – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – September 30th, 2011

I admit, I have fallen way way behind with my reviews. I’m writing this almost three weeks after seeing it. It’s not easy writing a substantial review every day even when the movie really deserves one. It’s almost harder when the movie deserves something good. If I’m tired or not terribly sharp or just cranky, then whatever I write is going to be crap. And that feels so unfortunate to me. But then I get hung up on whatever review I stopped at, and if it’s something I’m having trouble writing about, I don’t go on and write others. Not easily. I sit there and stare and wonder just how to say what it is I want to say. Fortunately, I made some notes here, so I can remember a few of the points I wanted to make. And this isn’t the review I got hung up on, so hopefully I’ll get back on track soon.

I remember when this came out I was working at the video store in Pennsylvania. It was a huge big deal, this gorgeous wire-fu movie with a romance and action and a sweeping story of struggle and yearning. And the cast! Michelle Yeoh and Yun-Fat Chow got the most attention when I heard the movie spoken of, but Ziyi Zhang gained steam quickly because she’s fucking awesome. And it came very very close to being overhyped to me. It was like The Matrix, where every person who came into the store would ask if I’d seen it and if I said yes, they wanted to have deep and insightful discussions and if I said no I got a long diatribe on how much I needed to see it and how it would change my life. So, I avoided it. For a little while. I don’t remember what made me break down and watch it, but I did. And I was so glad I did, because it is indeed a beautiful and beautifully made movie.

The thing is, I don’t really want to have deep and insightful discussions about this movie. I just want to appreciate it. The fact of the matter is that I do not know nearly enough about the culture(s) portrayed here or the time period they’re portrayed in to feel comfortable viewing this movie from anything but a modern and decidedly white US perspective. But then again, I think that might well not be a bad thing. I’m curious just how much of the movie’s content is modern commentary on women’s lives in an earlier time period. I don’t doubt that women did at times stand out and go against the grain, but I don’t know just how prevalent that was in this time and place. If much of the point of the movie is that the women in it have been outsiders (and that is key to the plot), then of course there will be women in it who try to break in.

The story follows four or five main characters as their lives converge around a legendary sword. Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat Chow), a martial arts master who hopes to retire from a life of combat brings his sword, the Green Destiny, to the supposed safe-keeping of a friend. He entrusts it to another friend, Yu Shu Lien, for the journey. Yu Shu Lien is also a skilled martial artist but was not trained like Li Mu Bai because she is a woman. The two have long been interested in each other romantically but due to social and cultural traditions, they’ve never spoken of their feelings. While Yu Shu Lien is visiting the friend the sword is being given to, the sword is stolen by a masked thief who displays amazing martial arts skills. Eventually it’s revealed that a young woman, Jen Yu, is the culprit, but she’s a noblewoman due to be married soon. Her teacher is her nurse, a woman made bitter by rejection from the best martial arts school because of her gender. And so the movie goes, with Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien (along with a few others) facing off against Jen Yu and her teacher, Jade Fox.

Ostensibly, the impetus for it all is the sword, which is pretty awesome I will admit. But really the impetus for it all is society and the restrictions it places on the women in the movie. Jade Fox took on Jen Yu because she wanted an apprentice to help her get revenge for being excluded. Jen Yu wants a life of adventure that she could never have under the societal restrictions she’d be held to as a married noblewoman. She’s had a taste of that life before, living in the desert when her family moved for a time. She ran off after a group of bandits and ended up falling in love with their leader, Lo. But she had to go back eventually and found herself trapped. And then there’s Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien, who seem at first to be the focus of the movie but end up a tragic side note to Jen Yu’s story.

Now, I did a little poking around when we watched this and came across some scholarly opinions. But I reject the interpretation that claims that Jen commits suicide in the end and that it’s a sign of her hopelessness in regard to freedom in a patriarchal society. That interpretation seems to completely miss the more fantastical bits of the movie and the direct reference to a legend told by Lo earlier in the movie. The way the legend is told, anyone who reaches the top of one particular mountain can make a wish and dive off. The young man in the story made his wish, dove off and flew away, knowing his wish had come true. So when Jen tells Lo to make a wish and then dives off, there is some ambiguity there, but I don’t see it as helplessness. The ambiguity is more as to whose wish will be fulfilled. Lo is the one with the faithful heart mentioned in reference to the legend, so perhaps it will be his wish. But Jen is the one who dove, so perhaps it will be hers. And perhaps they’re one and the same. That’s the unknown, and as she flies away, Jen is clearly at peace with whatever the outcome will be. She spent the whole movie railing against authority and fighting for the right to make her own choices. She made a choice in the end. What it was isn’t important.

The story is a sad and beautiful one, with a lot of little stories woven together to make a whole. But I realize I haven’t even touched on the visuals. Obviously the acting is superb or the story wouldn’t hold up as well as it does, but the visuals truly complete the movie. And I don’t just mean the backgrounds and settings, though those are amazing and lush and real in a way many movies fail to make one feel from the other side of the screen. I also mean the fight scenes, which are plentiful and impressive. In a movie where part of the story hinges upon the physical skills of the main characters, this also has to be spot on in order for the story to work, and it does. It is a gorgeous movie from top to bottom, inside and out.

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September 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

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September 30, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 578 – Battlestar Galactica: Razor

Battlestar Galactica: Razor – September 29th, 2011

Unlike the previous two nights’ movies, this was made to actually be a movie, albeit one that depends upon a television show to make any sense whatsoever. It tells about a whole chunk of time that the show skipped over to keep things moving and also goes back in time a bit, telling a related story from the first Cylon war. And it is perhaps some of the darkest stuff the franchise put out once the reimagining went on the air. Make no mistake, this is bleak and nasty stuff. It serves the dual purpose of showing how a certain new group of characters came to be the way they were when the Galactica encountered them, and making it clear that no matter how bad things got on the Galactica, they weren’t like this.

I honestly wasn’t sure when this aired in relation to the series. The show had some gaps here and there, including a hiatus in the middle of season 2 just after one of the most brutal episodes of the series up to that point. That episode, Pegasus, introduced a new ship to the fleet, a newer Battlestar that had survived the initial attacks. The Pegasus, commanded by Admiral Helena Cain, was a far different thing from the Galactica, and Cain herself was a far different commander than William Adama. But then the show kept going after the break and I didn’t think this aired that early and I was right. Looking it up, I see that it aired after the end of season 3, long after we’d seen the eventual fate of the Pegasus and many of her key crewmembers. You know, just to remind us all of what had been going on.

The movie begins with Lee Adama taking command of the Pegasus after Cain has been killed. Well, to be accurate, the Pegasus had two other commanders, but neither fared well. The focal figure of this movie isn’t one of the people we already knew, though Lee and Kara are both very important to the plot. The main character here, however, is Kendra Shaw, a young woman who had been assigned to the Pegasus as Cain’s assistant. Not long after she arrives the Cylon attacks commence and she’s suddenly in a far more deadly situation than she ever imagined. She’d considered the post as a stepping stone to a more prestigious position in the Fleet. Obviously that never happened. So we see her story, from meeting Cain to seeing her make the hard decisions in the opposite direction from what William Adama was doing in the main series. This is the story of how it might have been, had Adama been a slightly different man, had he not been surrounded by the people he was surrounded by.

Where Adama listened to President Roslin’s suggestion that they take the civilians they could and run? Cain stripped the civilian ships they found of both equipment and useful crew and continued the fight, using guerrilla tactics and if anyone questioned her or tried to stand in her way, she shot them in the head. That’s a good way of commanding order, I suppose, but it makes for a grim situation. She does this with purpose, though, and that purpose is survival. Not necessarily survival of the human race, but survival of her ship and her crew for the purpose of killing as many Cylons as possible. And she is brutally ruthless about it. You could probably take the events on the Pegasus point by point and compare them to the Galactica. It’s a stark comparison.

The movie flips between the prior events on the Pegasus, flashbacks to the first Cylon war, and present day where Lee has put Kendra in place as his XO to try and prove that he respects the Pegasus crew. As the crew goes on a mission to find a missing Raptor crew and an old ship from the first Cylon war with some sort of experimental tech the Cylons were butchering humans for, we go back and forth. Kendra and Kara butt heads, Kendra questions everything, Kendra remembers what brought her to this time and place. And I like Kendra. She’s an interesting character who’s had to make some compromises between her survival and her morals. She’s done things she regrets, but she’s had to keep going and not let those regrets engulf her. And they almost do, but she still keeps going. I don’t think Kendra really has an analogue on the Galactica crew. Dee, perhaps, but I almost feel as though she is a stand-in for almost every minor or unnamed character on the Galactica. People who might seem like perfectly ordinary human beings with the morals and moral failings one expects, but who, when faced with someone like Cain, might do unthinkable things. One of the things I loved about Battlestar Galactica was that it wasn’t an easy show. It made its characters make difficult decisions and it made them deal with the consequences. And Kendra is like a poster child for difficult decisions and consequences.

She also acts as a bit of a foil for Kara. Now, I’ll be frank: I love Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace and I love her for her entire character, flaws and all. But because she’s such a key character in the show and because she often steals the spotlight, it’s easy to look at anyone opposing her and dismiss them. This is a mistake. Look at Tigh, for example. He turned out to be one of the biggest bad-asses on the crew. So I like when people Kara butts heads with turn out to be just as strong and just as skilled and just as stubborn as her.

The other thing I really like about this episode is the combination of past and future around the present storyline. As the team from the Pegasus goes after their missing people they discover something that was created in the past, but which ends up playing a fairly sizable role (in concept) later in the show. There are also a number of callbacks to the original series, with classic-style Cylons showing up once or twice. The only unfortunate part about that is that the
foreshadowing done in this movie never really played out very well for me. The movie ends with a mysterious character we know very little about giving a prediction of doom for the human race that involves a major character from the show. And technically I suppose it does play out. But any time you have to qualify something like that with “technically” it’s a bad sign. It’s a matter of the terminology being technically true but annoyingly misleading. It’s not clever and it’s part of my eventual disappointment with how poorly planned the end of the series seemed to be. There was so much foreshadowing, including the end of this movie, and it felt like they had to find a way to make it all fit together and it didn’t. Ultimately, I do enjoy this movie. I just have to ignore where the climactic prophecy actually ended up leading to.

September 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Battlestar Galactica: Razor

September 29, 2011

Battlestar Galactica: Razor

Halfway through the secons season of the new Battlestar Galactica the show went on hiatus for several months. Things were beginning to get pretty intense in the series at that point. Well, okay, they had started out intense, but the show too a pretty dark turn midway through season two when the human fleet encountered the Battlestar Pegasus, a warship long thought lost which had survived through harsh martial law and unforgiving discipline. It was a startling dark mirror that showed how nasty things could have been on the Galactica if not for the humanising effect of President Roslin. Under the unforgiving command of Admiral Kain the Pegasus had become a ship of horrors – inured to torture and lost to despair. This movie came out during the hiatus and acted to show through flashbacks just how things got the way they were on Pegasus and just how bad they were. For good measure it also threw in some metaphysical twists to keep us hooked into the show.

The movie picks up with a quick recap of the events of the last couple episodes before the hiatus. It covers how an escaped cylon killed Admiral Kain after the Pegasus re-joined the colonial fleet and attempted to take it over. How the two men given command after her death were unable to bring peace to the doomed ship. Admiral William Adama puts his son Lee in command with the mission of making the Pegasus work as part of the fleet. Lee in turn takes a new face for us, the loose cannon and morally questionable Lieutenant Kendra Shaw as his XO. Shaw is a strong woman who was forged into a weapon of war by serving under Kain. Lee hopes that having her as his second in command will form a bridge for him to the crew of the Pegasus.

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September 29, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 577 – Battlestar Galactica (miniseries)

Battlestar Galactica (2003) – September 28th, 2011

Watching this tonight made me angry. And I find that annoying in turn. Because I typically don’t get angry about television shows. I ignore the ones I don’t like and I enjoy the ones I do like and when the ones I do like go downhill (i.e. Heroes) I just stop watching. And you know what I did with this show when it started to go downhill and bore/irritate me, and I started to suspect it wasn’t going to end at all satisfactorily for me? I stopped watching it. And I was happier for it. My mother, on the other hand, kept watching. I feel a little bad about that since I’m the one who got her hooked and in the end she just couldn’t stop. She chided me for “quitting” and not seeing the show out to the bitter end. And then when it ended she told me she didn’t want to talk about it. She likened it to The Prisoner (the ending of which she also hated). And she never again called me a quitter.

I was doing just fine in regards to Battlestar Galactica, the show, until we decided to put this in following Caprica last night. We’d planned on Caprica and Battlestar Galactica: Razor because they were both movie-length specials. But then Andy suggested we add this in between them, since it was a miniseries special that acted as a pilot for the series that followed. It was on the long side, yes, but we’d had theatrical releases that were longer, so why not, right? And then I realized it was going to make me angry, because rewatching the beginning of the reimagining of Battlestar Galactica just served to remind me that it started so very strong. It came out swinging and for the first two seasons it didn’t let up and watching it again, seeing it start and seeing all of these characters that I became fascinated by and knowing where it’s headed? That made me sad and angry.

This miniseries held such promise. It begins with an explanation that the humans created the Cylons, a race of thinking machines, to serve them. But then the Cylons rebelled and when the war between humans and Cylons ended, the Cylons left. They’ve been gone a long time when we come in, but now they’re back. We meet them by seeing a couple of shiny centurion models, and then we meet Six. She’s a blond bombshell in a red dress and she’s a Cylon and she destroys the station she’s on. Gut punch right there: The Cylons look like humans and they’re going to try and kill the entire human race. Which they attempt to do not long after, detonating vast numbers of atomic bombs on the surfaces of the twelve colonial worlds. They exploit a back door in the defense systems of the colonies and the ships of the colonial fleet, left there for them by one of their own.

The Battlestar Galactica, an old military ship due to be decommissioned and turned into a museum, survives the attacks because its computers were far too old to run the new (bugged) software. It’s a holdover from the first war, when networking meant being vulnerable to Cylon attack. And by the end of the first section of the miniseries we know that the Galactica is going to have to stay in fighting form for the foreseeable future. The miniseries is largely interested in setting the stage for the rest of the show, but as it was the very beginning and done in three installments, each section does have a beginning and end and a point. We see the Galactica’s crew form up and work to return the ship to readiness. We meet the characters who will fill the series and discover some of their issues. There’s Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace, an excellent pilot but prone to violent outbursts. There’s William Adama, the ship’s commander and his first mate, Colonel Tigh (who has a drinking problem and longstanding enmity with Starbuck). There are more pilots and officers and a few civilians. There’s Gaius Baltar, a brilliant scientist who was also responsible for unwittingly allowing the Cylons access to the defense systems. And there’s the imaginary Six who shows up only to Baltar, the apparent ghost of his former lover. There’s the new president of the colonies, Laura Roslin (formerly the secretary of education but everyone above her is now dead). The miniseries introduces all of them in bits and pieces, showing them instead of telling about them. And the acting from each cast member is superb.

Looking back on it, I’m amused to see how some of these people started out. Tigh, in particular, has an amazing character arc that starts here with his drunken belligerence and ends somewhere totally unexpected. As we’re shown how everyone works (or doesn’t work) together, we’re given a good sense of how some of these relationships are going to shake out, at least in the short term. The show’s big strength there is that it becomes clear even midway through the miniseries that things will not always end up going in the direction that the show seemed to be pointing. I loved that. I loved it so much. Because I felt like the show did an amazing job introducing these characters and making me care about them and then throwing them for loops that did interesting things to them without being gratuitious.

Take Starbuck, for example. I love her. Watching Katee Sackhoff in this, seeing her character develop strong right from the start where she’s jogging through the ship, I absolutely fell in love with her again. She’s so central to the whole thing and I adored her. And knowing that in the end all the things they did with her just seemed so… lacking? That’s frustrating, at the very least. But it’s still impressive to me, how well this introduction works. It lays everything out and makes it clear that there will be hard decisions and people will die. Faced with the choice of standing and fighting a losing battle or running and hiding and protecting the rag-tag group of civilian ships that survived, Adama seems torn. And the trouble is that no matter what choice he makes, there will be consequences. He ends up going with saving as much of the civilian fleet as possible, but notice I didn’t say all of it. And it’s all the product of the combination of people who are there to influence him, along with who he is as a person. Beautifully done.

The miniseries ends on a potential high note. The survivors have supplies, they have some cohesion. There’s a military presence to help with defense and a political presence to keep things organized. They’ve identified not only the external threat but at least some of the internal threat. And Adama ends by giving a rousing speech to the fleet, telling them that he’s going to lead them to the mythical thirteenth colony: Earth. And everyone cheers “So Say We All” and it’s all very heartening. Except, as we learn after the speech, it’s all made up. He has no idea where they’re going. It was a morale booster. That’s all. The threat is still out there and they apparently have a plan whereas the humans really don’t. And someone we know is something entirely different than we’ve been led to believe. It’s a hopeful ending, but a tense one at the same time, promising difficult decisions and shocking reveals that seem to be leading somewhere. I just wish that they had led somewhere better and I’m angry that the vast and amazing potential on display in this introduction wasn’t squandered by the middle of season three.

September 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Battlestar Galactica

September 28, 2011

Battlestar Galactica (Miniseries)

After watching the Caprica pilot yesterday we decided to add the Galactica pilot to our list and watch it tonight. When we initially drafted our list for the project we didn’t include this because it is a three hour mini-series and not a movie, but we’ve relaxed the rules somewhat in the mean time. We’ve watched a few mini series for the project (most notably the Diskworld adaptations) so it didn’t really make sense any more not to add this.

Watching this, particularly right after watching the pilot for the follow-up prequil series, highlights for me just how astonishingly well this series started out. It is simply mind blowing. Everything about this series was perfect. I don’t want to go overboard on the superlatives so I’ll leave it at that: perfect. The writing, the acting, the music, the cast, the special effects, the meticulous production design – all combine to make one of the most compelling, intense, dramatic and powerful televisions of all time – the last season notwithstanding.

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September 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 576 – Caprica

Caprica – September 27th, 2011

Back when the reboot of Battlestar Galactica started showing on what was still Sci Fi at the time, Andy and I watched it every week through the first three seasons. We stopped midway through season four. Andy kept up with it longer than I did and I still regret getting my mother hooked on it because she’s not the sort of person who can just walk away from a show, even when it’s clearly going downhill. So by the time Caprica started airing we just couldn’t handle starting to watch it. Why bother when we’d been so badly burned by BSG? We never tuned in and I only got bits and pieces of the show’s particulars from friends who were valiantly trying to stick with the franchise. Nothing ever really convinced me it was worth getting sucked into.

Because here’s the thing: I loved the first two seasons of BSG. I loved them passionately. And I knew that if the beginning of the new show was done half as well as the beginning of BSG, I would be suckered right in. The whole conceit of it is to show how everything began, introducing the key figures in the history of Cylon development and telling the story of how the Cylons came to be and where it all went wrong. And I love prequels! I love seeing the background to a story. Where it started, what happened, all the bits and pieces that resulted in a story that came much later. BSG itself was full of such a huge amount of background and history and up until late in the show’s run it was superbly written. So, toss me some backstory and write it to the same standard? Yep. Sold.

Except I don’t know. This is the pilot for the series and it has some good material in it, but I don’t know that it really left enough room to head towards BSG itself. Without going into specific spoilers for the end of BSG, the whole concept of the development of the Cylons being a big breakthrough in human technology is kind of off for me, knowing what I know. And having seen Battlestar Galactica: Razor, which has some flashbacks to the first Cylon war, I know even more of what’s in store than just the regular series showed. What, precisely, is going to be revealed here that we don’t already know? What I loved about the earlier seasons of BSG was that it was a show that messed with its audience. By the end of the miniseries that started it, there was a huge reveal about a major character and it totally changed things. And the show kept doing that. The big dramatic moment in this? Was when the Cylon body wakes up. But I was expecting it. I wasn’t at all shocked by it. And that made me doubt that there were any real surprises in store for me.

All that being said, I did enjoy this. It’s not bad by any means. I do like backstory, after all, and seeing the development of the Cylon as a military project, the shared online worlds developed in secret, the tensions between the colonies, the religious issues, those are all interesting. And at least in the special we watched, there’s nothing really there that spoils anything later in BSG, which I’m sure was difficult. Instead there’s a distinct focus on the roots of what divided the Cylons from the humans in the first place. And at least as far as this first installment is concerned, it appears that a hefty dose of social injustice as viewed by a religions zealot is the key.

Anyone who’s watched a significant amount of the BSG series (and why would you be watching this if you hadn’t watched any of the other or if you weren’t planning on it?) knows that the human colonists are polytheistic, believing in their own interpretations of what we identify as the ancient Greek pantheon. The Cylons, on the other hand, are monotheistic, believing in a single omniscient and omnipotent god. Caprica provides background on that, revealing that there’s a growing underground movement amongst the youth and young adults on the planet of Caprica and likely other planets, rejecting the pantheon of their parents and peers and embracing a single god and more rigid definition of right and wrong. Our main character, Zoe, is a convert. She’s also a computer genius and has managed to create a self-aware copy of herself in a virtual world created by her father. So when her father discovers the copy after Zoe is killed in a terrorist attack he attempts to resurrect her, downloading the copy into a Cylon body that he’s been working on for the government. It does not go as planned.

What complicates things even more, beyond the religious and moral issues, is that Zoe’s father has befriended another man whose daughter was killed in the attack: Joseph Adama. Joseph agrees to let Zoe’s father try to use Zoe’s code to create a copy of his own daughter. Unfortunately, the copy created is self-aware enough to seem real, but also to realize that she’s not really alive. She doesn’t have the knowledge of how she was created because she’s not the one who did it. When she realizes she can’t feel her heart beating well, it isn’t a good outcome by any means.

Add into all of that some political wrangling and mob influence on the government and corporations struggling for contracts and the like and you’ve got the start for a series. Which is, after all, what this is. It’s fairly obvious that this wasn’t meant to be watched on its own. It ends with a “shocking” reveal that’s clearly meant to herald in the major storyline for the series. It opens up possibilities with the prejudices between the colonies, sets up rebellious youth out of control and introduces a host of characters. The trouble is that it really is supposed to lead into the series. So as a stand alone piece it doesn’t quite work for me. I would hope that in future episodes Adama becomes a little more sympathetic, seeing as he is the father of a major sympathetic character in BSG. I would hope that more is done with the virtual world, since that would help explain some of the things that happen in BSG. I would hope that the show was able to weave together all of the threads it introduced here, but I’ve been burned by BSG already and I’m not intrigued enough by this intro to make Caprica worth the risk of another burn.

September 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Caprica

September 27, 2011

Caprica

Let me preface this review by saying that I absolutely loved the new Battlestar Galactica series – right up to about halfway through the last season. I loved the crazy metaphysics of it, the drama, the brutality. I was disappointed that it ended in such a slapdash way of course but I still have great respect for the first three seasons. It was out of that respect that I decided to buy this pilot for the prequel series. I have to admit, however, that as I watch this I’m feeling fairly jaded.

I know that this pilot is intended to hook me on a new series, so it’s all about raising a whole bunch of questions that I know will not be resolved in the pilot. I’ve already been burned before, though, so I can feel myself trying to be cynical and distancing myself from the action as I watch it.

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September 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 575 – Clerks

Clerks – September 26th, 2011

I think I’ve mentioned before that we have some truly bizarre holes in our collection. Like Fargo, though we’ve since filled that hole. This was another hole, made even stranger by the fact that we owned Mallrats. I mean, I enjoy Mallrats and all, but I enjoy this more. How could we not own it? So we ordered it, and by accident Andy ordered the Blu-ray version. Now, eventually I’m sure we’ll have a Blu-ray player hooked up to our television, but for now we have two choices: The PS3 in the living room on the large but old CRT in there, or Andy’s laptop. So, laptop it was tonight. Fortunately it’s got a nice big screen and he doesn’t mind a movie monopolizing it for an hour and a half.

This movie came out when I was in high school and it wasn’t long after it came out that I started working in a video store. I saw it soon after and well, it’s not as close to my experience as Empire Records is, but there’s a sense of service industry ennui that’s present through the whole movie. Granted, it’s very much a pop culture collage, but it’s also meant to be commentary on the lives of the people who accumulate that sort of pop culture knowledge. About the people of the generation who pay attention to that particular pop culture time frame. I’m not quite the right generation. I’m a couple of years behind, but not behind enough to be in the next one. This movie still resonates with me.

It is a movie with a simple premise: A day in the life of convenience store clerk Dante Hicks, who gets called into work on his day off. His “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” is oft quoted by myself and Andy and I suspect many others. Dante hates his job, hates the things he has to deal with in his job, and seems to want to do something else. But he also lacks the drive to do anything about it, simply accepting each new indignity with vocal protest but no action to back it up. Which is really his whole character arc, but without specifics like the ex-girlfriend who accidentally has sex with a corpse in the convenience store bathroom. Which is sort of the movie in a nutshell: It’s a simple premise in which bizarre things happen but which seem not to faze the characters as much as one might expect.

It’s rather episodic, really. And that seems intentional, since various sections of the movie have title cards displayed before them. But within each section are little episodes. They’re not quite vignettes. They’re just moments. We meet Dante and along with him we find out that someone’s jammed gum into the padlocks that open the screens over the front of the store. We watch him get accosted by a gum salesman who rallies smokers against him and we meet his girlfriend (who disperses the mob by emptying a fire extinguisher at them). We meet his friend Randall, who works at the video store next door and clearly does not give even a quarter of a shit. Through the course of the day we get to know Dante and his many and sundry issues.

First of all, Dante is in this dead end job he hates. Why does he hate it? He hates it because people treat him like dirt and he’s not even getting paid well to make up for it. Second of all, Dante has a nice solid relationship with his girlfriend, Veronica, but he’s still got a thing for his ex, Caitlin Bree. Third of all, he’s not even supposed to be there today! He’s got hockey! Really, Dante’s problem is inertia. Never in the movie is it suggested that Dante has any roadblocks to going back to school aside from a lack of interest. Which might be disingenuous if one took it as a commentary on all people his age at the time the movie was made, but I’ve never seen it that way. I’ve always seen it as a commentary on a very specific group, as represented by Dante. And Randall, because he sure as hell doesn’t seem interested in getting out of the small town they live in or getting a better job. Not just then, anyhow. The difference between the two is that Randall is self-aware and Dante isn’t. According to the trivia, the reason Randall is such a smartass with all the good lines and major insights is that Kevin Smith wrote the part for himself.

In amongst all the serious commentary on Dante’s life and how mired in his own problems he is, there’s a boatload of pop culture commentary. There’s a whole conversation (well known by now) about whether the rebuilding of the Death Star in The Return of the Jedi would have involved independent contractors and if so, whether those contractors were innocent victims of the Rebellion’s attack. These conversations are often just between Dante and Randall but they spread out to the customers too. They also comment on the nature of working in retail, talking about the vagaries of customers. They pause in their work to play hockey, to go to a wake, and to have a knock-down drag-out brawl in the snack aisle. And through it all we also get snippets of Jay and Silent Bob, two drug dealers who hang out outside the store and accost people who walk by. It is a bizarre mish-mash of scenes that cover all sorts of things, but which hang together due to the location and conceit of the movie.

The whole thing is filmed in black and white, which personally, I like. I’ve never minded black and white movies, even modern ones. When done purposefully they can look really good. While I know the major reason for it here was because Smith was working with a severely limited budget and didn’t have the money to do color correction on color stock with different lighting sources, I think it also would have looked messy otherwise. The movie was filmed in an actual convenience store. This isn’t a set. It’s a real place, which comes with the issue that you can only do so much set dressing. They filmed at night while the store was closed, so the place needed to be usable the next day after filming without too much fuss. Picture your local independent convenience store, with hand written notes and a counter full of point-of-sale displays in eye-popping colors and racks of stock behind the counter. Now imagine watching that on screen for two hours, because that’s where Dante is for much of the movie.

Now, this movie isn’t pure unadulterated brilliance from start to finish. The cast is clearly unpolished and every so often the writing is a bit too self-aware. It was made on a shoestring budget (for a movie) and you can tell. But it’s also a very strong movie in general, which makes the obvious low-budget issues matter less to me. Maybe it’s my retail background, but then too, a whole lot of people my age and around my age have backgrounds in retail. Even if the pop culture gets a little stale, which it inevitably will, the general idea will remain fairly solid for a little more time, at least. And that’s what sells this movie.

September 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Clerks

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September 26, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment