Overly Harsh Movie Review: Lars and the Real Girl

Again, spoilers below. Beware.




I first heard about Lars and the Real Girl when a member of the HR department told me about it over lunch in the company cafeteria. I’ve been to the internet once or twice, so I of course had heard about Real Dolls.

(Oh. Hey, Mom. No, I was just kidding. I hadn’t actually heard of Real Dolls. I was just trying to look cool in front of my friends. I just now realized what a Real Doll was and immediately spent ten minutes in the bathroom puking in disgust. What a terrible, terrible thing. I’m going to go now … and volunteer … at a soup kitchen. See ya.)

The conversation with the HR lady was … let us say awkward. I had no idea where the movie landed on the continuum between wholesome comedy and Skinemax “drama”. So I just nodded and smiled and made a few mental notes.

Then I actually saw the movie, and now I understand that there was no reason for me to feel uncomfortable. The movie is actually ridiculously wholesome given that there’s a sex doll on screen so often.

My first thought when the credits rolled was “Ryan Gosling? Shit.” The problem there is that the only movies I’d yet seen Ryan Gosling in, he’d always been the six-pack sporting sensitive dream boat guy. Hollywood loves to cast this guy as the sexy male character who’s about as deep as a half a kleenex. Let me admit right now that I mis-judged him. Ryan Gosling looked like hell in this movie and turned in a stellar performance.

Here’s the part where I make an awkward confession. The tag for these posts is “Overly Harsh Reviews.” You know what bad things I have to say about Lars and the Real Girl?


That’s right. Nothing.

I loved this movie.

I loved this movie right down to the ground.

It’s smart, it’s clever, it has heart. It shows the common, everyday kind of love and decency that gives me faith in humanity.

There’s an awkward, damaged, unhappy character, who finds a powerfully human (albeit bizarre) way to work through his issues. Everyone in his family and his town bend over backwards to help him out. There’s conflict and arguments, but they’re motivated and well-grounded in real, three-dimensional characters. Ryan Gosling and Emily Mortimer give terrific performances.

There’s even a (relatively) happy ending.

I laughed, I cried, I felt happy and uplifted at the end of the movie.

It may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly for me. Lars and the Real Girl is the best movie I’ve seen in 2012. Hands down.

I urge you to watch it.

Overly Harsh Movie Review: Cabin in the Woods

Spoilers below.







I’m kind of amazed I managed to see this so long after its release without having it spoiled for me. I knew that there were spoilers to be had, which meant I knew that there was some kind of twist (though it being a Joss Whedon movie might have clued me in and of itself) but the heart of the matter was not spoiled for me.

And yes, I know that there’s been a scientific study that indicated that having a story/movie/book spoiled for you does not reduce your enjoyment. To which I say: bollocks. The study indicated (at best) that for *most* people that is the case. I maintain (as I will till my dying day) that it is not true for me. I don’t care what one study says (or five studies, or a thousand studies). I prefer to be surprised by stories, and not have them spoiled for me ahead of time.

Oh look, there appears to be a soap box under my feet. I’ll just step down from that.

Now, speaking of awkward segues.

Cabin in the Woods is super-duper clever. It’s a really clever, meta idea about what could explain the counter-intuitive, anti-logic that pervades and rules horror movies. What bizarre set of circumstances could possibly account for the remarkably stupid behavior exhibited by 99.9999% of the characters in all horror movies?

In terms of coming up with said explanation, Cabin in the Woods succeeds admirably. Here’s the problem. Once I understand that premise and spend a few seconds chuckling admiringly at their cleverness and how wickedly meta this movie is, I still have a hell of a lot of movie to watch. And that’s where things fall apart.

As a straight-up horror movie, it sucks, because it’s going to great lengths to show us how stupid horror movies and the characters in them are. As artistic commentary, it’s not much better, because it spends most of its time congratulating itself on how clever and meta it is, and not much time giving me a story I care about.

The real problem is that there are no characters I like. The horror movie stereotypes are never human enough that I bemoan their descent into horror movie stereotypes. The manipulative technicians are funny and human, but enjoy the evil that they do way too much for me to feel sympathy for the fact that they’re forced into it.

In short, I love the idea of this film, but not the execution. It’s a fun movie, but in the end I was left wanting. I enjoyed it once. I will most likely never watch it again.

Overly Harsh Movie Review: Requiem For a Dream

Here’s what I posted on twitter/facebook/google+ after watching Requiem for a Dream for the first time:

“Watched Requiem For a Dream tonight. The lessons I gleaned are: 1) Reality is bad and 2) Escaping reality through drugs is worse.”

But there’s more to say.

First of all, let me say that Darren Aranofsky makes movies that I either love or actively dislike. The basic milieu of his film canon seems to be that reality is a terrible place to be, and his characters do whatever they can to escape it. Occasionally (Pi, Black Swan) that escape is a profound and compelling character study. Other times (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) I’m left with a random pastiche of unforgettable images but no sympathetic character upon whom I can hang my hat. Which, basically, leaves me with a haunting story that does not uplift me or the characters in any way.

I have to applaud Aranofsky’s film-making. No matter the story, he does a great job visually. And he gets good performances from his actors.

The thing that is both a problem and something to be lauded is that he’s right out there on the edge of film-making. He’s treading the ragged edge between an incredible story and a disturbing amalgamation of pointlessly disturbing indulgences. When he succeeds, he does so brilliantly. When he fails, he tends to fail spectacularly. He leaves me feeling empty, sure. Many films do that. But he also leaves me with a psychic residue of scenes and moments and visuals that hang with me and haunt me for weeks or months.

After I saw The Wrestler, I kept flashing back to scenes from that movie for a long time. And the worst part of it was that didn’t get any of the catharsis that should come with fiction.

I had an acting teacher who once said to me “The job of the actor is to heal the human soul.”

I’ve since expanded that to my own maxim: “The job of the storyteller is to heal the human soul.”

Sometimes taking risks and pushing that boundary is the best way to do that. But sometimes you can push beyond the boundary. I won’t go as far as to say that new wounds are inflicted, but certainly no healing is forthcoming.

Again, I applaud Darren Aranofsky for his brave and ground-breaking work. I just wish I could tell ahead of time if I were going to love or hate the result.

Requiem for a Dream? Sorry. Hate it.

Whistling Past the Whorehouse

Anyone who has hung around me for any length of time will likely have noticed that I’m usually pretty good at spotting jokes. I have a sharp wit, and I’m very good at spotting obscure references and insinuated humor.

There is however, one notable exception to this ability: I very often miss double entendres and other salacious humor completely. I’ll blow right by them as if they never happened, completely unaware of their existence. During a conversation with friend of mine a few weeks ago, we coined a phrase to describe this trait:

Whistling Past the Whorehouse.


Our hero, enters, whistling.

Lady of the Evening: “Hey, baby”

Me: “Why hello there ma’am.”

Lady of the Evening: “Do you want to have a good time?”

Me: “Yes. Yes I believe that I do.” (pause) “Well, see ya.”

Exits, whistling.

… And scene.