Whirlwind of reviews: movies

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Bridget Jones' Diary movie posterI read Bridget Jone's Diary some time ago, and actually enjoyed it, in a beach reading kind of way. Between that and my enjoyment of all of the major actors, I felt like the film had to be worth watching, especially when I picked it up free from the public library on my way home to recooperate from my neck injury. But I was wrong. The movie just doesn't have any of the sharpness or sarcasm or desperation of the book. And the characters are just...flat. It's hard not to buy Hugh Grant as a dashing British playboy, I mean, he's made a career of being one, but he's not much of one here. And Colin Firth, who I really did like as the real Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice, left me cold here. Zellwegger herself was not too bad, but she wasn't quite pathetic enough to be an enjoyable Bridget. The film's high point was definitely Jim Broadbent as her dad. I didn't take much notice of his character in the book, but really fell for him in the film.

As Helen Fielding, who wrote the novel, also wrote the screenplay, I have no idea why the film's lines gave me a flat feeling that the book's did not. It may be just a case of my not having been in the right frame of mind, or it may be that it didn't translate all that well. It may also be that since reading Bridge Jones originally, I've read the amazing A.J. Rochester's Confessions of a Reformed Dieter, which was way better Bridget to me than either the pulp or the film fictional ones.

Best in Show movie posterMark has consistently told me that he doesn't like Christopher Guest movies, and I have consistently responded that it's because he'd never seen Best in Show. I made this argument convincing for myself by never thinking about the fact that aside from Best in Show, I'd never seen any of Guest's other movies. So I got Best in Show from the library and forced Mark to watch it. And while it does have the hilarious moments I remember (Parker Posey and her yuppie hubbie Michael Hitchcock meeting after eyeing each other from Starbucks across the street from one another, the man declaring to Catharine O'Hara that she was the best cocktail waitress he'd ever banged, etc.), the movie really isn't all that funny on a second watching. Partially it's just disappointing how little the dogs themselves are featured, but preferring dogs over people may just be my bias. Partially, it's that some of the schticks (Eugene Levy's dorky character in particular) are just so overplayed, nobody needs to see them again. This isn't one I'll be putting on my "can watch it over and over again" list.

Weather Underground movie poster Drastically transitioning, the next thing we watched was The Weather Underground. This is a really well done documentary about the Weathermen, the leftist "terrorist" organization in the 60s and 70s. The filmmakers do a good job finding a breadth of people who were involved to interview and getting their takes on the situation, and they come out as they should--conflicted and conflicting. Whether or not what the Weathermen did was right or justifiable isn't even a core question in my mind, but it is still an interesting exercise to watch the documentary makers explore it through the people who were involved themselves, some of whom are still valiant activists, and some of whom have calmed down just like they were supposed to. The film isn't slavish towards the former revolutionaries, and I appreciated that. One criticism that can be made is that it doesn't give a whole lot of background information--I kept up fine, but I've studied this period in history, and if you hadn't, I think you'd be left with quite a few questions. Which might also be good, actually. My other criticism is the inclusion of Todd Gitlin. God I hate Todd Gitlin.

High Cost of Low Prices movie posterI've got no problem going on record and saying I'm anti-Wal-Mart. I'm anti-Wal-Mart. I have not, in fact, been in a Wal-Mart store for probably nearly 10 years, but I understand (to some extent) and resent the harm Wal-Mart directly has caused to this country, working people, community and family businesses, rural life, overseas workers, and just about anybody or anything else you'd like to name. They are, to my mind, the embodiment of the evil American corporation. As bad as it gets.

But none of that makes this a good movie. It's just sloppy. It's not well-edited, it's repetitive, it jumps around in unnecessary ways, and it refuses to stick to and make one point. In trying to cram everything that's wrong with Wal-Mart into one 90 minute film, Greenwald makes the mistake of not presenting a coherent argument for even one of Wal-Mart's faults. Which sucks, because they are many.

I may have been more charitable towards this film had I not just read Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Worker's Rights at Wal-Mart by Liza Featherstone (review to come). In focusing on one specific aspect of how bad Wal-Mart is, though touching on several others, Featherstone makes a much clearer, smarter, and more compelling case for what is wrong and what needs to change. Greenwald could learn a lot from her.

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