movie roundup

Some quick thoughts on things I've seen lately:
  • D.E.B.S. (2005 DVD) -- there's a 10 minute short film that I saw at a festival that was the basis for this 90 minute feature -- and when I saw the short, which is funny, sexy, and appealing, I had to wonder how it could possibly be extended into a full-length film. And I don't think it was that successful. Premise is that the SAT is secretly a spy training selection test, and there's an academy of young girls in plaid skirts with big guns training to take out super assassins. It's kind of campy, but in places it wants to be serious too -- and that's where it isn't very succesful. The lesbian love story between one of the spies and the assassin works OK, but the scenes with the rest of the DEBS squad are really lame. Worst problem for me is that director Angela Robinson doesn't just "evoke" 80s classic movies (as one interview I just saw suggested) -- she blatantly lifts huge sections of plot and dialogue from my all-time favorite 80s teen movie, Valley Girl. When homage begins to look like theft, you've lost the audience you might be trying to woo with your references (ditto with her soundtrack).
  • Saving Face -- here, on the other hand, is a lesbian film that manages to use existing conventions of the romantic comedy plus the cultural clash/1st-generation comedy and still come up with something sweet and new. Plus, I haven't seen any feature-length Chinese-American lesbian films before. Recommended.
  • Mr & Mrs Smith -- beautiful people, lots of explosions, fine for a really hot summer day. Though after the first couple of minutes you kind of forget how good looking these two are -- without ordinary looking people around them as contrast, they sort of cancel each other out. The whole film works as a fantasmatic version of couples therapy (which serves as the narrative frame) -- the stages of identifying problems, anger, each person having the option to end the relationship, and then uniting as a team against some other enemy -- which might not be how couples therapy works for everyone, but that's how it worked for us a few years ago. So I appreciated the wit of this film in playing it outin the most exaggerated symbolic way possible -- because, after all, that's how the subconscious works.
  • Crash -- good attempt to open more dialogue about race and racism in urban settings -- plenty of moments that make you wince, which I think are good and hard to achieve. But the film doesn't quite follow through on its gritty approach. I think maybe the conventional plot coincidences and twists are there to try and manage the material, but one in particular really deflates the film.
  • The Story of Us (DVD) -- ok, I know the preview for this movie made it look terrible. I only rented it because I'm on a Bruce Willis kick in my Netflix queue. And because it's a Rob Reiner film. And I'm glad I did. It's basically When Harry and Sally Hit Midlife. More thoughtful and funny than I expected (only terrible scenes are when the kids are on screen, but that's pretty rare).