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Rating History

Gummo
Gummo (1997)
5 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

This is one of those movies tough to put on a rating scale. Going by how well it accomplishes what it sets out to do, it's an easy 10/10. By how much I appreciated the experience, I'm still not sure myself. Not much lower though.

Every so often, I'll come across a genuine mind trip of a movie, one that's not just strange but challenging in some unsaid way. And that challenge only grows more layered across the runtime. Even in the trailer, I could feel a magnetic quality in Gummo. The brief testament to life's beauty all but resonated with the odd, affectionate images of poverty. The film includes as much crude and disturbing content as some of the worst attempts I've seen to make money off of cynical shock vaule. But this isn't cynical, and it isn't really shock value, and most of it doesn't even feel at odds with the rest of the vision. On one hand, I'm inclined to say that a plot with roughly three acts, which the film deliberately avoids, is the popular storytelling form for a reason. But where I've paused during my favorite movies to think about the rating counter and what magnitude the experience had reached, I had forget this during Gummo. It only detracted from the experience.

I should ad that I didn't intend to watch it at first. My first encounter with Harmony Korine was when "Trash Humpers" became a candidate for the movie to watch at next week's Obscure Movie Group meeting. I decided to skip that week. (I heard it lost to Pink Flamingos.) But I read up on Trash Humpers just to see what corner of the no-budget, no-effort grade z film world the people in charge had dug it out of. Learning that it not only had drawn some attention but had a few critics giving it dead-serious praise was the first hook. In fact, making it look like a grade-z film was a deliberate choice by the director. From there I had to know more. And everything I came across was somehow intriguing.

Intriguing is the word of the day here. Korine has yet to score a fresh on the tomatometer, yet the only two consensuses sound like they're secretly on his side. His early films, including Gummo, seem to be his most admired as well as his lowest scoring. There is definitely a "trademark odd beauty" to them, but many of the negative reviews insist that they're as pretentious and detestable as they could possibly be. I've also noticed a few speculations on why people say that. Here's mine;

I think we can agree that people don't gravitate towards things that are too outside the norm. We need to get used to the idea of something before we can trust it. If it doesn't easily fit into one of the labels we have ready, we come prepared with "annoying", or "stupid", or at the very least "weird". Gummo is "weird" to most people, and disturbing on top of it. For that, most don't want to understand or consider it, writing the whole thing off as disguised ugliness. While simply declaring other critics' opinions invalid is unfair, I think it's a misunderstanding to say that Korine is "mean", "smug", "sour", or "pretentious" here. Korine has said that he made this film because he finds the people portrayed very interesting, and his sincerity is clear. What his film sets out to do is not to judge them, or us, but simply to show us life on their terms. This isn't a statement. It's a tribute. It's a collage, both realistic and dreamlike for whoever wants to see. The images are funny, sad, adorable, pitiful, and oddly nostalgic. Sometimes what it portrays is dispicable, and the dislike I felt probably did drop my approval a little. But every moment has a place in this visceral image of life that Korine weaves, and as the main character says, though he seems to forget it himself at points, "Life is beautiful. Really it is. Full of beauty and illusions."

I still can't put my finger on Korine himself. Watching him in person, he's awkward and sometimes unintelligible. Reading his prepared statements, he's confident and assertive in his visions that seem operate on a different plane. He claims to admire or identify with the subjects of just about every movie he makes, which sort of seems visionary and pretentious at the same time. But if it's made one thing clear by now, it's that Korine is not worried about how he comes across. Whether a good one or not, he's a true artist out to express visions, not elevate our vision of him. He is, I agree, "the real deal".

Rudy
Rudy (1993)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

The fact that I was borderline impatient with this movie at the start highlights how invigorating it becomes even more. On a slow day, having just been rubbed the wrong way by the (melo?)dramatic lines in Secretariat to the point of frustration, I wanted a movie with emotion, but I needed a movie with entertainment. Against my better judgement, I went with another underdog story and came out with a fresh connection to the genre.

At first, I was worried that the movie would mostly be segment after segment about Rudy's steps towards playing football at Notre Dame, his dream since childhood. It was. And I loved every one of them. There are some dramatic moments involving lines that I don't often hear people speak in in everyday life, just like in Secretariat (a movie I can't give a final opinion on, since I sort of missed the boat overall). But this time, they made me believe it. Rudy, while still very human and not lacking common sense, is a sincere guy, as played by Sean Astin. His focus isn't making sure he sounds sensible. It's making sure he gets the point across.

The story is one of the best testaments possible to working toward your dream, because it praises the journey more than the final payoff. Rudy, a sub-par high school student, studies for four semesters at a small college, discovering and learning to work around his dislexia. He gets the best grades of his life, as well as starting a mutually benifiting friendship with a slightly awkward intellectual. He's finally accepted into Notre Dame and tries out for the football team, making it on the practice squad by impressing the coach with sheer limitless effort. He goes at 100% every moment, gets up after every hit, and is soon attached to the only word anyone can think describe it with; heart. And it's all worth it to him, because his dream isn't an idealized vision of reality. He loves Notre Dame football. He lights up every time he talks about it. What he wants isn't glory, but simply to be a part of it and to be able to say that he graduated from Notre Dame. In some ways, this makes it all the more a dream worth chasing. And it's fun to follow him every step of the way.

Things don't always look good for Rudy, but part of the story's power is in the fact that working towards his goal has literally already made him a winner. As a friend tells him when he starts to think otherwise "In this life, you don't have to prove nothin' to nobody but yourself. And after what you've gone through, if you haven't done that by now, it ain't never gonna happen". If he'd been ultimately rejected at any point, he still would have had worthwhile achievements, and if he'd ever quit, he wouldn't have had the movie's final scene to share with us.

Ghost Rider
Ghost Rider (2007)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

Ghost Rider is better than the Punisher movies that I've seen, and it does have its moments. But it's still a little too tedious and depressing and not fun and exciting enough. Even as a violent, unspectacular good time, it doesn't quite deliver.

Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 (2010)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I'm always happy with a sequel that's fun, though not quite up to the original's standards, and competently continues the story. I came into Iron Man 2 knowing its reputation and expecting to have good time. But much to my surprise, though I did indeed have a good time overall, I sympathized with the negative reviews a little. I think it's because the story wasn't entirely competent. (Spoilers)

It would have been disappointing if Tony wasn't still, first and foremost, the shameless party man, so that was a good call. But still, I have to wonder why the government and other countries trying to gain control of and/or replicate his suits doesn't bother him. Isn't he worried that, when his design is recreated (in 10 years at longest), the problems he found in the last movie will start again? What about when Ivan, the son of his dad's bitter former partner, shows that he has it right now (in an attempt to kill him)? Has he resolved to be at peace with the world and its weapons with peace established for now? (If that's true, fine, but let us know!) We only see that he's not worried, though Pepper Pots and his friend Colonel Rhodes are, and happy to be the media star.

But he does have a problem with the device that's saving his life also poisoning his blood (which explains his behavior, though still not his original resolution, as his other problems persist). This brings in a subplot, also not without its faults. With no apparent solution, he tries to live up his last days. He gives Pepper, whose role as a love interest is developed only a little better than Tony's newfound beliefs, his job and drives her crazy with his thrill-seeking. (Somewhere along the way, he suggests they vacation together.) He crosses a line while drunk at his (last?) birthday party, leading to a fight in Iron Man suits with Rhodes and to Rhodes (who feels betrayed after sticking his neck out for Tony) flying off to give the suit to the army. By now we feel bad for Tony and want to see his complete comeback.

I respect that Iron Man 2 doesn't want to let us off with the usual cliches. It deliberatly sidesteps the moment where Tony and Pepper would've reconnected with a Hollywood heart to heart talk and fallen into eachother's arms. And the climax begins at the part that, without a better idea, would have been Tony's obligatory triumphant return as a new man. But, come on, it should give SOME KIND of resolution! Instead, the problems just sort of fade away, and the angst we felt isn't entirely resolved. Tony's heroics against Ivan's robots, built with the resources of Tony's underhanded buisness rival, just reassure everyone. The end. The one thing that does get a nice resolution is Tony's impending death. Nick Fury steps in and tells a beaten Tony there is a way to save his life. It turns out Tony's dad cared about him after all and started creating an element for Tony to finish, which can power Tony's suit and not kill him. (There's a strech.) The dad he never really knew saves him (and wasn't a bad guy after all).

The cast does well enough. Samuel Jackson's usual authoritative presence is the perfect answer to Tony's collapse. The best friend role is filled adequatly, creating the character Tony has the best moments with on screen (not to mention a good old tag team fight at the end). Mickey Rourke brings a presence to Ivan and his limited development. He's menacing as he cloaks his work in mystery from the man desprate enough to break him out of prison and employ him ("Hammer"). Hammer, a whiney Tony Stark wannabe, could be a little more subtle, but some of the funnier moments come from him. And I've liked Pepper Pots so far. She's a refreshing version of the love intrest character, complete with a memorable (odd) name. It's a shame the movie didn't try to find a smart, deeper scene to reconnect the two of them. Instead she simply overhears that he was dying. Then, when Tony saves her, they argue bit before just falling into eachother's arms. We simply assume they figure everything out. Not bad but not good either. As for Scarlett Johansson's character, I know she was in the comics, but I'm not sure what purpose she serves here, apart from doing extra stock character jobs and making Happy Hogan look bad. Maybe they thought Hogan couldn't fill out a scene on his own. But maybe I'm wrong and her scenes would have been worse without her. And of course, Robert Downey Jr. is the only one I'd want to play Toney Stark.

I pretty much liked Iron Man 2. The action, for all its logic gaps, was great. The suits and droids battle it out with inventive weapons and gadgets that we never get tired of watching. Tacking on another point to my score would still be an accurate reflection of the experience. But I have to say, movies with lower t-meter scores have left me more upbeat and satisfied.

Meet the Spartans
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The rule of thumb with Friedberg and Seltzer is that they get worse as they go. However, I'm not so sure that's the case here. The horrendous Willy Wonka scene in Epic Movie (a film of theirs that I decided against watching from start to finish) offended me more than all of this movie combined. And I actually laughed/smiled at a few jokes. The guy yelling "stop kicking people into the pit death!" at the king after he goes over the top with that was kinda funny. And the scene with the king trying to toughen up his son by pro wrestling him was almost flawless satire.

And now that I've listed just about every positive thing that can be said about this movie, I can get into how pathetic it is. Apparently when they helped make Scary Movie, Friedberg and Seltzer missed all the jokes and just assumed the sight of scenes from other movies and things you'd see in the bathroom were what was funny. I'm not even sure how to review it. At least in most bad movies, someone is trying to accomplish something with a moving plot. Apart from the scenes I mentioned above, all they're really doing is imitating scenes from other movies and making them senseless. (Many of them are from 300 so they can claim it has a plot at all.) Each one is like something thought up by drinking buddies who decided to watch a Family Guy marathon! ("Oh yeah, that part where Cookie Monster went crazy! Hey, what if the penguin from Happy Feet danced in and suddenly went nuts and attacked everyone?" "Yeah, what if Paris Hilton suddenly had this ugly hunchback?" "What if...") I could probably go more in depth, but it's so mindless, I don't even want to try. It's not too offensive to sit through. And as the first of their movies I saw, it didn't drive home what pathetic filmmakers Friedberbg and Seltzer are. (I'm almost positive that I would have given both Epic and Disaster Movie lower scores if I had seen them through and through.) But it's still a weak, unfunny, mindless movie.