Winnebago Man (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
I’ve never heard of Jack Rebney and the viral video that made him infamous. I don’t actively search for viral videos because most of them feature people being hurt or humiliated. I don’t take pleasure in watching other people’s misery unless the material is fictional. If I do end up watching a viral video, it’s because either a friend sends me a link with an accompanying, “Watch this! It’s hilarious!” message or I’m at a friend’s or relative’s house and I have no choice but to watch a video they want to show because I don’t want to be impolite. So when Ben Steinbauer, the director, claimed that Jack Rebney was someone he looked up to, I was surprised. After all, how can one look up to someone based on a viral video? I was curious and I considered Steinbauer to be the subject as much as Rebney. The director searched for Rebney and it turned out that the man had isolated himself from society. He claimed to not know about his status as a YouTube sensation, but was he telling the whole truth? One of the documentary’s goals was to explore how Rebney felt about the video tape of him cursing like there’s no tomorrow because he could not deliver the lines correctly for the Winnebago commercial. It was able to touch upon the surface but I wasn’t convinced that Steinbauer went deep enough into the man’s psychology. In the end, I felt sorry for the subject which has been dubbed as The Angriest Man in the World. It was obvious to me that he wasn’t enjoying the process of being in the documentary because he hadn’t yet found closure about the past–the very reason that tarnished his reputation and thereby his decision to live in isolation. I felt his hurt and anger and it made me feel like the director crossed the line between respect and asking pertinent questions and causing further controversy. After watching the viral video, I didn’t find myself laughing too much. I chuckled about three times because Rebney had a knack for cursing like he abhored the world. But then I realized that what he was caught doing was completely natural. We all have different ways of venting our frustration. Some of us break down in tears, some of us internalize (my weapon of choice), and some of us express the frustration into apparent rage. Actors in Hollywood most likely are guilty of the same thing (may I remind you of Christian Bale’s rant?) but they aren’t as visible. So the way I saw it was Rebney was a product of an unfortunate circumstance. I wish Steinbauer had enough courage to confront the specific people who decided to release the behind-the-scenes video. The whole thing may have been a big joke to them but they essentially ruined Rebney’s career. I find that a lot more shameful than a man who was simply having a bad day at work.
Léon: The Professional (1994)
★★★ / ★★★★
Jean Reno, a reclusive assassin whose best friend is a plant, takes twelve-year-old Natalie Portman under his wing after her family was killed by police officers led by Gary Oldman. Written and directed by Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “La Femme Nikita”), I enjoyed “Léon” because it was more about the humanity of a contract killer instead of his many interesting ways of killing. Even though the action sequences could be found more toward the beginning and the end of the picture, I still found Reno and Portman’s relationship to be quite endearing. Undoubtedly, there were times when I found the director would cross the line between father-figure/daughter relationship and older man/younger girl relationship. Those scenes made me uncomfortable but perhaps it was because this was Besson’s first full English-language movie. In my opinion, European films have a more sensual feel compared to American movies. Still, I was able to overlook such flaws because I found the story to be interesting even if it needed to have more depth. Another quality I liked about this film was that there really was no “good” character. Pretty much everyone had done something shameful in their lives. And the main character was aware of this so he locks himself up in his room and only comes out whenever he has an assignment. Oldman’s character was the kind of guy that you love to hate because he has no redeeming quality. Nevertheless, I thought he was very interesting to watch because of his quirky mannerisms and sinister aura. I kind of expected an intense duel between him and the protagonist so I was somewhat disappointed with the ending. For such a sadistic man, I thought the bad guy would suffer more in the hands of another killer and get the delicious irony he deserved. If one is looking for action with picture with a heart, I’m giving “Léon” a pretty solid recommendation despite its sometimes glaring flaws.
The Soloist (2008)
★ / ★★★★
I did not expect to dislike this movie as much as I did. “The Soloist,” starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, was about a writer and a talented musician who happened to be a homeless man with schizophrenia and how they taught each other lessons in order to be more secure with themselves and eventually integrate with their families. Unfortunately, most of the elements that made up the film did not work for me. For instance, I think the movie went on for too long neglecting the fact that schizophrenia is a very serious mental disorder and that “friendship” does not necessarily cure it. It tackled the issue of diagnosis and medication in only two scenes, which I found to be absurd given the subject matter of the integration of a person with a fractured mind in society. I also found the pacing of the picture to be quite boring (for the lack of a better word). I wanted to know more about why Downey was so into helping Foxx. It certainly was not because he was a very giving person; in fact, he was sort of a reclusive, self-contained individual who neglected his family. If Joe Wright, the director, had found a way to balance scenes between Downey and his family (Catherine Keener as his ex-wife and a son who we never saw on screen) and Downey and Foxx, I think the audiences would have had a better understanding about his motivations. I also would have liked to see more of the history behind Foxx’ character. There were a few flashback scenes which I found to be very touching, especially his relationship with his mother, one of key figures in his life that pushed him to pursue his musical talent. All in all, I think the film’s fatal flaw is that it tried too hard to reach the most mainstream audiences via sentimentality and not enough common sense. We saw a lot of images of homelessness but it ultimately amounted to nothing–just images of misery and sadness. Also, I really hated it when Foxx’ character would play the cello and we would get random images of colors and buildings of Los Angeles on screen. It would have been so much better if we actually saw him play a piece and observe the passion in his eyes. Lastly, “The Soloist” lasted longer than it should have because of a dozen or so unnecessary dialogue that had nothing to do with the big picture.