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catching up

what i watched last week

Down by Law (Jim Jarmusch, 1986). A couple of months ago I watched my first Jim Jarmusch movie, Broken Flowers, and now I’ve added another, this time one of the more famous ones from his early period. I liked Down by Law about as much as I liked Broken Flowers, which is to say I’m glad I watched it, and not much more. There’s no use complaining about the pace of the film … Jarmusch knows exactly what he’s doing, he’s doing exactly what he wants, and you can take it or leave it. Down by Law has its charms; Tom Waits and John Lurie underplay pleasingly, and Roberto Benigni’s effervescence isn’t as annoying as it might be, because he contrasts well with the others. There’s room for a cameo by Ellen Barkin, who fits right into the New Orleans milieu a year before she made it all her own in The Big Easy. The cinematography by Robby Müller is beautiful, and there’s an overall feeling of genial goodwill in the film. I never did fall in love with the movie, but I fell in like with it enough to give it 7/10. #458 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

Sharknado (Anthony C. Ferrante, 2013). This SyFy Channel movie was everything its title promised: cheese, crappy FX, awful dialogue and acting. But thanks to Twitter, it was a very enjoyable viewing experience. For awhile, it seemed as if every tweet was tagged #sharknado. TV Critic Alan Sepinwall live tweeted the East Coast feed, and rose to the level of what he was watching … he had a good time, and entertained us in the process. As he later wrote, “I doubt I would have watched more than a few minutes of this schlocktacular if my Twitter feed hadn't been clogged with people watching and cracking jokes right along with me.” Some folks seemed a bit befuddled … my son tweeted the question, “What in tarnation is a sharknado?” Shawn Ryan of The Shield decided to live tweet a later showing, and he got off several good lines as well. He also inspired the following, from segelke43: “the fact that you're live tweeting sharknado vs writing the second season of Terriers makes me sad”. (And Michael Chiklis tweeted, “Oh Goddamn it, now I want to see it too”.) Mia Farrow posted a picture of herself with Philip Roth (later revealed to be from a different day entirely), alongside the tweet “We’re watching #sharknado”. Even the San Francisco Giants got into the act. When Gregor Blanco (nicknamed the White Shark) put the Giants ahead vs. the Padres, SFGiantsFans tweeted, “The #Padres just got hit with a White #Sharknado!” As for the movie itself, it sucked. The social aspect of watching it might get a 9/10, but I’m just grading the movie, so 5/10 it is. Which I guess means I’m grading the movie and the social aspect, because the movie was only worth 3/10.

Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, 2013). Blockbuster Done Right. It’s not easy to figure out why Pacific Rim is a very good movie while Michael Bay’s movies suck. Del Toro doesn’t stray too far from the norms. There’s the conflicted hero who must be cajoled into returning to battle, the hardened leader with a secret, the spunky woman. There are monsters and robots, and fights between monsters and robots. There’s even my favorite cliché, the unnecessary (and largely unseen by any character) timer to maximize suspense for the audience. But it all works. For one thing, del Toro does a good job with the battles between the behemoths; for the most part, you know who is where and what they are doing. For another thing, the casting is exemplary. If the usual SyFy schlockfest offers a couple of B-grade TV “stars”, Pacific Rim gives us Charlie Hunnam (of the British Queer as Folk, the cult fave Undeclared, and Sons of Anarchy) and Idris Elba (aka Stringer Bell), and then tosses in Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi. For still another thing, del Toro manages to turn his clichéd characters into something resembling actual humans. Most of the time, these kinds of characters never get beyond one defining characteristic, but here, each character is as finely-drawn as is possible in a movie devoted largely to giant monsters fighting giant robots. The key may be that the robots are inhabited by two humans who must blend their minds together to make the robot work. The result is a deep relationship between the robot teams that allows for a shorthand recognition that Pacific Rim is about people, not just about robots and monsters. 8/10.

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