How About Some Good Movies for a Change?

I’ve decided it’s way easier to do a series of reviews, a la my Abu Ghraib post (that’s right, I just referenced myself), instead of writing individual reviews. So I’m gonna do that from now on. To kick us off, let’s explore some of the better movies that have been released lately.

First up, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang–so nice they kissed it and . . . banged it twice. This movie is about Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey, Jr), a bumbling thief who is mistaken for an actor in that silly Mexican experiment we call Los Angeles. He auditions for the part of a detective and Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), ‘Gay’ in that instance being an adjective and not a given name, is the detective hired to make his acting more authentic. As Harry practices being suave and subtle, he and Gay Perry stumble into a case involving murder, deception, and the high school love of Harry’s life. Alright, though an intriguing plot is a major reason to watch this or any detective story, the strongest part of this film is its sense of humor. It’s self-referentially post-modern enough to be witty, but not too much to be annoying. Robert Downey, Jr. tries to impress the girl and fails enough to endear us to him, but not too much to make us wonder what the heck she sees in him. Val Kilmer nails (heh) Gay Perry, a parody of gay parodies along the lines of Willem Dafoe‘s Agent Smecker in The Boondock Saints. I mean, what else needs to be said? It’s a dark comedy detective romp. The plot is too complex to really get any meaning out of it, but meaning isn’t the point. The point is to have fun watching quirky characters deal with the grisly side of humanity in an ironic fashion. And it is fun to watch.

4 stars out of 5.

Next is Something New, starring Sanaa Lathan as Kenya McQueen, a corporate lawyer in for quite the surprise when she agrees to a blind date with the friend of a friend. The surprise: he’s totally white. Hey-o! Let the romantic comedy begin! I know what you’re saying. Well . . . I strongly suspect what you’re saying. “Chris, c’mon. Romantic comedy?” Hell’s bells, romantic comedy! I do have a girlfriend, which means I’ve seen more of them than I would have liked to. It also gives my ego the necessary boost to convince me that I know a thing or two about them. Well, that may or may not be, but I’ll tell you what I do know. Something New is a darn good movie that just happens to follow the conventions of a romantic comedy. And I know/strongly suspect what you’re still saying, “But the whole black/white thing? Hasn’t that been done?” Yeah, it has, but not nearly this well. The obvious comparison is with Guess Who, starring Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac, about a white man meeting his black girlfriend’s family. Here’s the thing though: where Guess Who dodged the real racial issue in favor of sitcom-esque formulas of uncomfortable situations, Something New hits the racial issue head-on . . . and then backs up and hits it again . . . and then one more time for good measure. The end of the movie isn’t hard to guess (it is a romantic comedy), but it’s how they get there that is so compelling. Nothing is easy for them. The movie doesn’t fall into the tired “Look how we’re all really the same” out but instead walks that razor’s edge of how we’re the same and how we’re very different. The only way the movie could have done this so well is with complex characters, which it delivers, in spades. There isn’t one caricature or clicheed character in this film. They’re human. And it’s beautiful. They don’t react to the questions the film raises in a ‘good guy,’ ‘bad guy’ way–they react to them in a human way. That humanity is what makes this, for my money, the best romantic comedy out there. In the end, Something New turns out to be just that–a new and refreshing look at the pressures of the workplace, relationships, and race.

I can’t find anything wrong with this movie, and unlike several of my English professors, I’m not scared of a perfect score. 5 stars out of 5.

The last movie I’ll recommend for now is Syriana. It’s a complex epic about oil, terrorism, spies, and corruption. I said it’s complex and I mean it. There’s, what? Four main storylines? It’s confusing, but I think that’s the point. We’re not supposed to travel down a storyline so much as get surrounded by characters and events. Why would a movie be purposefully confusing? Well, the main focus of the film is world politics and the economics of the oil industry that drive them. There’s a simple solution there, eh? Who’s the real ‘bad guy?’ Who’s the ‘noble hero?’ There aren’t any. This movie isn’t about Left/Right. It’s more about Have/Have Not in the oil industry. If I had to boil a movie like this down to a basic theme (which I really shouldn’t), I guess I’d say it was, “The Haves screw over the Have Nots while they still have what makes them the ‘Haves’ (in this case, oil) . . . and that is unfortunate.” People whine and complain about the ‘liberal bias’ of this film, but the only bias in the above theme is the “that is unfortunate” part. If that’s the case, then that means a liberal is someone who thinks people screwing over other people is bad. And if you’re not a liberal here then I guess that makes you an asshole. I say “while they still have what makes them the ‘Haves'” because one thing the film does make clear is that there is way too little oil for the whole world and it will run out. It will. Bald-faced greed is the real villain of this movie. The villain certainly isn’t a character. Like Something New, every character in Syriana is a complex human with several conflicting motivations that keep you guessing as to their “true” beliefs. You can’t really pin any one down as a ‘bad guy’ . . . at least I won’t. The movie is realistic but it’s also really subtle. Some might say overly subtle. Part of the confusion comes from the film never quite saying anything overtly. One of its strengths, one of its weaknesses. Whatcha gonna do? I enjoyed it. I recommend it. Take that for what it is.

4 stars out of 5.

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