- What animal, not normally ridden by humans, seems like it would be really fun to ride?
I’m voting for a blue whale. I don’t know where you’d put a seat on that thing, but if I could just hang on and cruise around with it, things would be pretty terrific. Who’s going to mess with the guy hanging onto a blue whale?
- What’s a food you’ve always wanted to try but still haven’t?
I can think of several expensive dishes or old-school dishes you just don’t see in restaurants nowadays, but for some reason I feel weird saying I want to try them, so I’m going with a different category: berries. I live in a place where berries don’t grow well (strawberries are grown in Kula, on the slopes of Haleakala on Maui, and they’re yummy, but that kind of coolness is not common in this state), so my experience with berries has been kind of weak. I’d like to try a lot of good, fresh berries I’ve never had in any form: a few I can think of are black elderberry, buffaloberry, gooseberry, chokeberry, and huckleberry.
- What’s stuck to your refrigerator door?
A guitar-shaped magnet with Michael McDermott‘s name and website on it, and two sets of magnetic poetry (standard set and literary set).
- Assuming your needs for food and water were taken care of, how do you think you’d do if you had to live houseless for a year?
I think I’d do rather well, as long as I had access to my public library, which many (many!) of the homeless people in this town also take advantage of. Safety would really be the biggest concern, because places where you can get away with sleeping here are pretty rough. I’m afraid my pacifist ways might make it difficult for me to get along in the homeless community here.
- What geographical location that’s not already a person’s name (that you know of) would make a pretty good first name for someone?
I’m going with Boise.
Malibu Spring Break (2003)
Charity Rahmer, Kristin Novak, Pilar M. Lastra, Sara Michelle Ben Av. Directed by Kevin Lewis.
Michelle and Phoebe are on their way to Malibu from Arizona to spend spring break. They don’t really have a plan, but Michelle has a very rich uncle in Malibu and she’s pretty sure he’ll let the young ladies stay there even while he’s away on business elsewhere. The uncle has one very strict rule in his house: no parties! But hey, the girls are young and crazy and they’ll make sure everything is cleaned up and put away before Michelle’s uncle gets home.
The house, an enormous mansion with an enormous pool and hot tub, comes with a couple of surprises. The first is Gloria, the pretty but feisty daughter of the uncle’s maid. She lives downstairs in the maid’s quarters and does the housecleaning when her mom is away, as she is this week. The second is Michelle’s cousin Denise, a goody-two-shoes from Minnesota who gets along with Michelle despite almost ceaseless ribbing. There’s some bickering among the girls, and they agree (with apparently no stakes involved) to a bet whose winner is the girl whose party date drives the nicest car.
This is a brainless, pointless girls-in-bikinis movie that doesn’t even try to maintain any semblance of the story line it sets itself. Entire plot elements that are hinted at early are never brought up again, and there are conflict resolutions that don’t make any sense. In fact, most of the conflicts don’t make any sense. You know those cheap music-video scenes where some kind of fun music plays on the soundtrack while the characters, standing in front of mirrors, try on different outfits? There are two scenes like this within eight minutes of each other. At least in Pretty Woman, the scene exists to establish something meaningful in the story. In this one, no real reason exists except to show you rapid-fire video of four pretty girls wearing a variety of fun, playful looks.
I don’t honestly have a problem with that when that’s all the movie promises, but at the very least, in a dumb movie like this, some effort should be made to present likeable characters, and none is made here. Yes, the ladies are nice to look at (especially Sara Michelle Ben Av, who plays Denise as the supposedly homely loser whom nobody in real life would ever think of as homely), but as in real life, so in the movies: for the promise of seeing some skin, you can put up with an annoying person, but there’s a point at which no amount of beauty is worth the annoyance, and all of the main characters in Malibu Spring Break go well past it. The last minute of the film hints at a sequel (everyone agrees to go to Maui for spring break the following year), but thank goodness that movie was never made, and some of the actresses actually went on to semi-decent television work.
Not recommended, because it doesn’t get quite stupid enough for so-stupid-it’s-good late-night status.
Yes, We’re Open (2012)
Lynn Chen, Parry Shen, Sheetal Sheth. Directed by Richard Wong.
A yuppie couple, slightly bored with its sex life, considers the possibilities of an open relationship. The man and woman think of themselves as modern and unrestricted, but despite the urging of another couple for them to give it a try, the pitfalls seem prohibitive, among them their simply not being sure what they want.
I am an avid admirer of Lynn Chen, whom I loved in White on Rice and The People I’ve Slept With, and whose social media content I find entertaining and interesting. She has a screen presence that reminds me of the smart, pretty women I encounter every day, a kind of graceful but uncomplicated confidence that’s easy to get along with. For this reason, her character is the least annoying of the four central characters in this movie. Where the others are smart and unbearably obnoxious, she is smart but only mildly obnoxious. Her character’s partner is the kind of guy who turns a wedding toast into a political diatribe lacking any social awareness, and the fact that she loves him is a condemnation against her.
I hate to say this because his performance seems sincere, but Parry Shen, who plays Chen’s lover, is a weak link among pretty good actors. Almost every scene he’s in feels slightly off, like maybe he was the understudy who had to stop in at the last minute and can focus either on blocking or on lines, but not both at the same time. And boy, is his character unlikeable.
This is the problem with this movie as whole: its characters are just impossible to like, and not even my admiration of Lynn Chen is strong enough to keep me from counting the minutes until the movie’s conclusion. I didn’t want to spend a minute more than necessary with these people, and when one of them flat-out tells another that nobody can stand him, it’s actually true of everyone else in the film, including the person leveling the accusation.
Really not recommended unless you’re a Lynn Chen fan, in which case it’s sort of required viewing.
Diego Abatantuono, Claudio Bigagli, Giuseppe Cederna, Vana Barba. Directed by Gabriele Salvatores. Italian and Greek with English subtitles.
The Blockbuster video rental store in Hilo had a good deal: make a twenty-dollar donation to a certain charity, and receive a two-for-one card valid every Tuesday for a year. Combined with a surprisingly large foreign-language film selection and my last few credits of undergraduate study, not to mention friends a few apartments down the hall with similar tastes and a two-for-one card of their own, that deal turned me on to some of the best films (and best memories) of my film-watching life.
But that was twenty years ago, and while I look back fondly on the titles I enjoyed into the late hours, there are a lot of movies I only remember liking without remembering much else. The multitude of streaming options lately means the ability to revisit many of those films of my final college year, one of which is an Italian movie called Mediterraneo.
Seven Italian soldiers in 1941 are sent by boat to a remote Aegean island to look out for enemy aggression. It’s not a very important job, and the men assigned to it, save the brawny sergeant who serves as second-in-command, are not career military men. They are teachers, farmers, and young men who haven’t yet figured out what they are. It’s clear they are given an unimportant assignment at least partly because that’s where they will be useful.
So when the boat sent to pick them up is destroyed while still approaching on the horizon, the men are stranded there for the foreseeable future. It is not news they regret: island life suits them. The lieutenant in command is an amateur painter, and he agrees to do the frescoes in the orthodox church. The others find ways to keep themselves occupied, and since all the able-bodied male residents left to fight the Germans, the Italian soldiers find many ways to remain useful, not the least of which is in keeping the island’s lone prostitute, a beautiful Italian woman with nowhere else to go, in business.
The film is a relaxed, easily-paced movie version of a Jimmy Buffet album, more a collection of moods and grooves than a sequence of events. In many ways, it reminds me of the Japanese film (directed by Naoko Ogigami) Megane, but where that film focuses mainly on one woman’s adjustment to island living, this one kind of lets us see the group of soldiers and leaves it up to us to interpret what’s going on inside. In this way, the film is not quite as rewarding as it could be, but it’s still a nice, pleasant fantasy of a movie, and I can see why I remembered so little of the plot and so few of the details: it’s more about the feelings you get while you watch it, which I remember quite well. I was happy to relive them.
Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, LeBron James, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Vanessa Bayer, Tilda Swinton, Randall Park. Written by Amy Schumer; directed by Judd Apatow.
Amy is a writer for a Maxim-like magazine, and because she hates sports, her editor assigns her to a story about a very successful surgeon who specializes in sports-related leg injuries. The surgeon’s name is Aaron, and he’s so good at what he does that his patients, including LeBron James, become his friends, and he is greeted at Knicks games by all the players. He’s clearly a really nice guy, but he doesn’t seem to have much time or energy for dating. Amy has her own issues: at a very young age, her parents divorced, her father explaining to Amy and her sister Kim that the reason for the divorce is that monogamy doesn’t work. Amy takes it to heart, and although as a grown-up she has a steady boyfriend (a cartoonishly hilarious John Cena as a musclebound meathead), the relationship is open, and Amy has an active and varied sex life.
Amy gets to know Aaron while interviewing him for the article, and while Aaron seems to see in her the woman he’s always wanted, Amy seems to view him as a sex partner she also likes hanging out with. The self-destructive lifestyle she’s curated for herself makes it impossible for her to accept a truly loving relationship, but she can’t help the growing feelings she has.
Amy Schumer (the actor, not the character) is one of the most important voices in comedy these past few years, a feminist voice that plays by her own rules while working within a male-dominated profession. I say this with no irony or hyperbole: Amy Schumer is the emerging Taylor Swift of comedy. She challenges expectations, calls out hypocrisy, and repeatedly zigs when even her closest observers think she’s going to zag. It says something that this is the first film directed by Judd Apatow that he did not at least co-write. Today’s leading director of comic film broke character in deciding to work with her.
Yet Schumer and Apatow seem to favor the same aesthetic: each of them is clever and crass in a way that has you looking over your shoulder to see if your parents or kids are within earshot because what you just heard was filthy, but the creative raunchiness is really just a different palate of colors for a story that pretty much stays in the lines. Sometimes it works really, really well, as with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, but usually, as with This is 40 and, alas, Trainwreck, it feels a little empty and unsatisfying. Despite some really excellent pieces and some creative moments, Trainwreck doesn’t earn its emotional payoff honestly. Scenes with Amy’s father (Colin Quinn) and sister (Brie Larson) are well done and quite moving, but the film expects that to carry over to the romantic storyline, and it simply doesn’t.
We want Amy and Aaron to connect in a meaningful, lasting way, but how and why they do is never satisfactorily established, and that can mean everything in a romantic comedy. It’s a genre that is largely connect-the-dots, but if that last dot isn’t earned, it doesn’t matter that the final picture is a duck: it’s a dishonest duck, a duck that’s never earned.
Apatow has a habit of working with combinations of the same people from movie to movie, which bodes well for future projects. Another shot with the same cast and writer could be brilliant, even groundbreaking, and Schumer is a perfect candidate to make that happen. I want to see more of the thinking that birthed an intervention involving Chris Evert, Matthew Broderick, LeBron James, and Marv Albert, because that’s a hilarious concept. But man, it takes a lot to pull that off and tell a good story, and Trainwreck, while interesting and entertaining, doesn’t quite do that.
Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Canavale, Michael Douglas, Judy Greer, Michael Pena, T.I. Directed by Peyton Reed.
Scott Lang is just out of prison for stealing from some kind of tech corporation after the firm has been discovered to be ripping people off. Lang used his computer savvy to return the ill-gotten money to customers’ bank accounts. His combination of technical aptitude and cat-burglar dexterity make him an ideal candidate to wear the Ant-Man suit, which not only shrinks him to the size of an ant, but also enables him to command ants to do his bidding.
The suit is the property of Hank Pym, who apparently was once involved with S.H.I.E.L.D. but left after a disagreement about how to use it. His estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne, has worked with his former protege, Darren Cross, in the company Pym used to run. Cross is close enough to duplicating the technology to worry Hope, who turns to her father to intervene. This is where Scott comes in.
Ant-Man is an origin story, so we are treated to extended sequences of Scott learning to control the suit and the magnified strength he has in his tiny form. He also learns to control ants of various species, each with its own abilities.
Rudd seems to be everyone’s favorite everyman (if that title doesn’t go to Jason Bateman), which makes him just right for this role, and he plays it with a nice vulnerability that sells the Ant-Man transformation better than a more machismo-laden actor might have. The film aims for several layers of sentimentality that, with a less sensitive actor, would never have worked. As it is, performances by Bobby Canavale and Michael Douglass work against that, but it might be the fault of the script, whose dialogue often comes right out of the comic book cliche factory.
Rudd’s likeable portrayal holds the movie together, and creative effects playing with the shrinking-enlarging technology keep things from getting too serious even in the midst of some pretty heavy action sequences. I’d welcome a sequel.