Smile Politely

Back in the swing of things

Now that school is winding down I finally have the time to watch DVDs and tell you whether they’re any good. This week’s crop is not all that special: a straight-to-video sequel to a sequel to a bad horror movie (The Grudge 3), a straight-to-video sequel to a film whose cult success has always mystified me (S. Darko, not named after that silly Headlights song “Songy Darko” from a couple years ago), and a should-have-been-straight-to-video sequel to a sequel to a moderately successful horror/action film (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans). But if you dig deep, and by that I mean “watch something from last week because it’s been so long since you wrote anything anyway and people won’t notice,” there are a couple films worth watching.

New Releases From the Box 
This week’s guilty pleasure, Taken is an unapologetic middle-aged patriarchal paranoid fantasy, not to mention a xenophobic and borderline fascist film. On the other hand, it is really fun to watch evil people get beat the hell up, if you’re in to that sort of thing. The story is shallow and manipulative: modest, hard-working CIA spy/father (Liam Neeson) tells young daughter not to go abroad; spiteful, vain mother (Famke Janssen) and daughter conspire to send her abroad; mother is proven wrong when daughter is kidnapped as soon as she gets to Paris; father travels to Paris to kill the Albanians who are selling his daughter to evil Muslims. Along the way, torture, blackmail, and his own brand of violence against women are all justified in order to get his daughter back. 
Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, The Professional, Transporter, Unleashed) co-wrote Taken, which explains why its such a dumb, dumb movie. But the film fills the gaps in narrative with rather excellent hand-to-hand combat scenes and a premise so simple you can’t help but root for Neeson’s character, even if the film, as it does for me, directly contradicts your political beliefs. 
Wendy and Lucy 
This is the film that actually came out last week. Directed by Kelly Reichardt (who also did Old Joy, which I haven’t seen but hear is good), Wendy and Lucy is the deceptively simple story of a drifter, Wendy (Michelle Williams), and her dog Lucy. When they stop over night in a small Oregon town, Wendy wakes up to find that her car won’t start and that she’s running out of money. Tying Lucy up outside a grocery store, she goes inside to steal some food, only to be caught and sent to jail for the afternoon. When she comes back, Lucy is gone. She spends the most of the rest of the film looking for Lucy, with nowhere to stay and no way to get out of town. 
This subtle little indie film is memorable mostly for Williams’s performance as Wendy. I knew of Williams only as Heath Ledger’s baby’s mama before I saw this film, but as it turns out, she is worthy of the praise given her for previous roles, all of which I have missed. We never really know find out why Wendy is on the road, but her performance doesn’t leave us questioning anything; her character feels so complete that by the end of the film you feel that any overt explanation would cheapen the film. This is also a tribute to the script and the direction, which were both breaths of fresh air after having watched this and the fast-paced, manipulative Taken back-to-back. 
Star Trek: The Motion Picture Trilogy 
Obviously, before this weekend, 10, not three, Star Trek films had made it into theaters. So what’s with this “Trilogy” box set? Well, the fans do identify a trilogy within the 10 films: the events of Star Trek II, III and IV all lead directly into each other and also average out to be the best series of three of any of the 10 films. But for some reason, Paramount decided that this box set would include not the thrilling and well-written Wrath of Khan, the forgivable Search for Spock, and the hilarious and charming Voyage Home (the traditional “trilogy”), but the overlong and ponderous Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the aforementioned Wrath of Khan, and the far-less-forgiveable-in-this-context Search for Spock
This is only a “trilogy” insomuch as the films came out all in a row; Wrath of Khan was more or less a “reboot” from the financially successful but already aging Motion Picture. (I mean, come on, did they really think pastel uniforms would be believable anytime after 1979?) Wrath of Khan fast-forwarded the story 10 years (to Shatner’s actual age), introduced those really sweet Starfleet uniforms you remember from all the films, and introduced real, three-dimensional, human characterization to the Star Trek universe. It’s not that The Motion Picture is particularly bad, it’s just that no one wants both it and Search for Spock in the same box set. 
Next Week on From the Box 
Our author passes on Paul Blart: Mall Cop while trying to get himself excited for Bryan Singer’s fictitious account of true story of Valkyrie (lie to me, Bryan), and finally gets a chance to see My Bloody Valentine in 3-D. Fanboys is also out on DVD after taking two years to get to theaters and then only getting a limited release. Does it mean the movie’s bad? Maybe, but cameos from Shatner and jokes about 2000s Star Wars sucking make it infinitely appealing.


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