Right, saw a mess of movies and read a book while in Kansas. First, let’s get the painful out of the way. The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement will join my now unintuitively-named top five worst movies of all time list. It took a tired and poorly-executed concept from the first movie and turned it into a complete waste of time. Even the most uncultured and uninspired children would find this tedious. While I am sure that the thought of an (obviously stunt doubled) Julie Andrews going down a stairwell on a mattress would make small children giggle, the rest of the inconsistency, plot weakness, and terrible acting would make their poor heads explode. The only redeeming part of the whole experience is that it ended. Torture. 0/10.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High was interesting. In 2004, this film feels a little dated, a little out of touch, and not very exciting. For 1982, this must have been shocking. Between the open discussions of sex, steamy scenes, and nudity, it is obvious that this was a seminal work in the genre. While I appreciate things from that perspective, I can’t say that it brought me a lot of enjoyment. It reminded me somewhat of my Citizen Kane and Seven Samurai experiences, in that these cinematic masterpieces just did not seem to hold as much meaning for me as more contemporary masterpieces. That said, Fast Times lacked the timeless qualities that these two classics possess, due to its being tied so tightly to the eighties. I grew up in the eighties, I don’t miss them yet, but I appreciate what this film did. 6/10.
Sliding Doors was a nice intellectual romance. The interplay of themes on love, affairs, and the power of chance is interesting, and the parallel storytelling was a nice filmmaking gimmick. All of that said, while Gwyneth Paltrow’s acting was exceptional, the supporting cast was lackluster, though John Lynch’s ability to make me hate him for his character’s weakness was admirable. Towards the end, things got somewhat predictable, and even the “twist” was a bit on the obvious side. That said, I don’t think the point was so much to make a magnificent film as to make a nice feel-good romance without the same old tired plot (woman about to marry man, new love interest shows up, falls in love, has a misunderstanding, reverts and settles for original man, discovers in the end that the new love is the one for her). 7/10.
Wimbledon was a somewhat contrived romance using, you guessed it, Wimbledon as a framework. Nothing deep, just a contemporary feel-good romance, where you take the aforementioned cookie-cutter romance and replace the “initial lover” with “tennis.” Maybe I’m getting soft, but I still found the film quite enjoyable; it was a nice easy satisfying story to watch last night before returning to work. 6/10.
Closer seemed to bring about very polar reaction, and as far as the people I know that have seen it, it’s a clear split down gender lines. I found it to be quite enjoyable, though I can’t quite figure out why. Natalie Portman gave an excellent performance, and Julia Roberts was fantastic. Unfortunately, Jude Law and Clive Owen were not nearly as impressive, but one can’t have everything. I would agree with criticisms that the dialogue often seems somewhat awkward and forced, yet in further thought I’ve come to realize that the rawness of the various interchanges is what makes it all the more poignant. I think it does a good job conveying the awkwardness and discomfort around the topics in the film. The most powerful aspect of the film is the disquieting portrayal of the self-destructive nature of selfishness, a theme that resonates throughout the story and long thereafter. Beyond that, I found I enjoyed the film as a bit of an absurd comedy. I’m not sure that was the intent, but if you go with the opinion that the point of art is what you make of it, as opposed to what the artist intends… 8/10.
Spanglish was much better than I expected. All of the primary characters gave strong performances, and Sandler proves once again that he can play a serious role. There were a number of loose ends, and a couple of pointless bit parts (you could have removed the son, the real estate agent, and Flor’s extended family with no impact to the plot), but it all comes together to make a nice story. There’s a fantastic scene in the restaurant that is one of the most erotic scenes I’ve come across in a long while, without being particularly sexual as things go. The depth of emotion conveyed therein demonstrates just how much acting talent there is for Sandler and Vega. The college application frame for the story was somewhat corny, but worked rather well. Altogether, an entertaining film on culture, roles, attraction, fondness, devotion, and loyalty. 7/10.
All of the movies aside, I did manage to finish one book while on vacation. I Am Charlotte Simmons is Tom Wolfe’s newest book; Sarah and I picked it up after Wolfe talked about it on The Daily Show. Anxious already for some collegiate nostalgia, I felt an immediate draw to the characters and experiences in the first few chapters, reliving many of my initial college experiences and misconceptions in print. Throughout the book, there were several times were Wolfe’s attempt to utilize a modern collegiate vernacular made me cringe, though I have to give him a nod for his coining (unless I’m mistaken) “fuck patois.” This said, the ultimate draw to the novel is not one of longing for things past, but as a study of identity. I think Wolfe makes this a little obvious by starting the novel with a title that screams identity, and methodically repeating this very phrase nearly every chapter. That said, he repeats it while he slowly shows the erosion, manipulation, and change to the protagonist’s identity, which makes for a nice contrast. Further, by concluding the novel not with this catchphrase but instead with something suggesting a self completely replaced, Wolfe nicely ties up the metamorphosis that takes place throughout the story. In the end, I found the book an easy yet satisfying read that will likely resonate with recent college graduates as well as those struggling with the notion of self. 8/10.