DVD Reviews (The Class, The Room, Tyson, Passion of the Christ, etc.)


The Room--Transcendently Terrible

After coming back from Europe, I have been in happy couch potato-mode for the most part. I’ve pretty much never left the house, except to go to the library, grab snacks from the supermarket (salt & vinegar potato chips, oh how I missed you), and rent some DVDs. Seriously, it’s good work if you can find it, ha ha. So here’s a rundown of the movies I’ve watched from my crazy lazy vantage point:

** Elizabeth **

I really wanted to watch this after my visit to the Tower of London. It was definitely well-made, and Cate Blanchett did a great job, but for some reason, it didn’t really reach all the way to my heart. It was like a classical painting, beautiful but cold, keeping you at a distance.

** Paris, Je T’Aime **

Of course, I wanted to see this after my walks through Paris. It turned out to be a corsage of short vignettes, each taking place at a different Paris district (“arrondissement“). The stories all have different directors and different cast members, and as such, they vary wildly in tone, themes, and quality. Some of them fall into the yeah-whatever category (the excruciating story set in Chinatown, the pointless Elijah Wood vampire tale); some of them are baffling (the mime love story); and some of them are emotionally potent (the story of a musician and the rescue worker). My favorite story–and the one I could relate to the most–was the very last one, a simple story of a middle-aged woman who visits Paris for the first time. All in all, the stories effectively in making the collective point that anything is possible in the city of magic that is Paris. It made me eager for my next visit (but seriously, no more bread).


The Class-Tres bien!!!

** The Class **

Another French movie I saw was “The Class.” It’s based on a true story, and it’s about a teacher trying to get through to kids at a tough public school. I was blown away by this movie. Every scene feels amazingly authentic; I felt like I was watching a documentary. This is not a schlocky Hollywood formula film where the teacher with the heart of gold comes and inspires the students to greatness (Dangerous Minds, anyone?). “The Class” is about reality, and it doesn’t shy away from complexity.

The teacher, while certainly well-meaning, is also clearly flawed (he infuriates two of his students by saying they acted like “skanks”). As for the students, they are likewise real, not bad per se, but young, immature, and infuriating at times. There is no such thing as “good” and “bad” in this film; it’s an illuminating and unflinching look at all the gray areas in between. It’s both inspiring and despairing, without ever ringing false.

** Tyson **

Unlike my father and brother, I personally can’t stand watching boxing (or UFC fighting for that matter). I’ve never bought it as a sport. It may be physical, and it may have regulations, but you’re still talking about an activity where the purpose is to beat the other guy until he can’t stand up.

Still, Mike Tyson was such a famous (and infamous) figure that even I couldn’t help be intrigued. And after watching this documentary, I must say, I ended up being even more intrigued by him. He really holds nothing back in his interviews, and his life story ends up being this mythical allegory of a larger-than-life figure whose empire ultimately comes crumbling down. He obviously had countless issues (especially with women, as he freely admits–though he denies raping the woman that he refers to as “swine”), but he’s also clearly done a lot of growing up, and it’s hard not to feel for him.

** Passion of the Christ **

I was reluctant to watch this because I heard it’s very bloody, but my brother convinced me to watch this (“Dude, Tom, you’ve gotta watch it”). When we were renting ths at Hollywood Video, the clerk told us, “Oh, that movie changed my life. They were so mean to him!” After watching it, I understand what he meant.

It is just as bloody as I feared, but it feels authentic, not gratuitious. After all, that’s what Jesus must have experienced. The decision to have the actors speak in the language of that time (Hebrew?) also adds to the sense of realism. Ultimately, I was really moved by the film (especially by the performance of the actress who played Mary), and I’m glad I finally watched it.


Glen and Marketa (aka Swell Season)

** Once **

My brother and I are alike in that we really want to share the things we like to other people. So I ended up watching “Once” twice (ha ha, pun intended), once with my brother and once with my mother. They both liked it, as I expected.

How can you not like this movie? It’s definitely in my Top 10 All-Time Favorite movies. It’s got great music (though I must say, I like the girl’s voice far more than the guy’s), the characters are immensely likeable, and the story–about an Irish guy and a Czech girl who both love music–is simple but painfully real from beginning to the bittersweet end. It’s just an amazing achievement all around.

** The Room **

Now we go from the sublime to… gosh, it’s so hard to come up with appropriate adjectives for “The Room”. Basically, I was reading on Wikipedia about movies that are considered the worst films ever made, and this one (a critic called it the “Citizen Kane” of bad movies) piqued my interest.

After watching it, I can assure you that it really is terrible. Really, really terrible. But that’s not the end of it. It’s also kind of cool in its absolute, unrepentant terribleness, and there is a reason why it’s developed a cult following. It’s terrible, yes, but it’s transcendent, nonetheless.

Let’s first talk about the story. It’s basically about a guy named Johnny whose fiancee is cheating on him with his best friend. Then he finds out and gets very upset. But none of that really matters; you won’t care at all. What makes “The Room” whatever it is lies in the details. Johnny laughing creepily for no reason no matter what he’s doing. The fiancee’s mom announcing she has breast cancer like it’s absolutely nothing (and how the fiancee barely seems to care). The nameless character who shows up and starts talking to everyone from nowhere. The endless scenes of the Golden Gate Bridge everytime the director wants to show that time has passed. The games of catch where the characters pass a football back and forth when they’re almost right next to each other. How pretty much every scene starts with “Oh, hi [insert character’s name].” The list of WTF moments goes on and on.

I think the reason “The Room” works in its crazy, bizarro-world way is because the director (the same guy who plays Johnny) really did make a movie that was true to himself. From interviews, he sounds like a nice but extremely eccentric guy, and since he made the movie that he wanted to make, it does feel real, no matter how ridiculous and surreal it is. For that, I can only admire him.

Now, here’s a new track from the upcoming album by Swell Season (better known as the Guy and the Girl from “Once”):

The Verb – Swell Season

And one of my favorite scenes from “The Room” (Johnny buys flowers):

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