Sex and the City 2 (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
It’s been two years since the first highly successful “Sex and the City” movie and the same amount of time had passed since Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big’s (Chris Noth) wedding. Written and directed by Michael Patrick King, the four best friends–Carrie, Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis)–decided to go to Abu Dhabi for an all-expenses-paid trip because they figured they could use a break from their respective battles regarding career, marriage, having kids, and menopause in New York City. As usual, hilarity and drama ensued when the girls visited bars, talked about sex and faced their problems before heading home. Although not as glamorous as the first (though it certainly did try), I enjoyed this installment because it took us somewhere new, featured a culture other than New York City’s, and there were moments of real sensitivity such as when Miranda and Charlotte talked about their frustrations about work and raising kids. I liked that it didn’t try too hard to top the first movie except for the very cheeky, self-aware, over-the-top gay wedding (with Liza Minnelli singing and dancing to “Single Ladies”) in the first twenty minutes. However, there were some elements that I felt were unnecessary like the appearance of a former lover (John Corbett) that was solely and conveniently designed to make Carrie realize how much she really loved Big and how petty she was for worrying about becoming a “boring couple.” Most of the lessons were pretty obvious (at least to me) but the main reason why I’m a fan is because of the fashion and the glamour. I guess most people don’t realize that the whole thing is supposed to be a farce. I mean, who in their right minds would wear designer clothing in the middle of the desert? It irks me when I read reviews from both critics and audiences concerning the movie’s characters being shallow and the plot being unrealistic. But I guess the joke is on them if they come into the movie expecting the events to reflect real life. For me, “Sex and the City 2” delivered the goods because I got exactly what I signed up for: about two and a half hours to escape my problems and realize how good my life is in comparison. At first glance, these women might be bathing in jewelry, expensive clothes and ridiculously well-designed apartments but they have so much unhappiness in their lives. Sometimes, they even create their own problems in order to make their lives more interesting. As for those who claimed that the movie was politically incorrect, I say it’s nothing new. In fact, the television show flourished because it was exactly that–politically incorrect. “Sex and the City 2” is a good movie to watch with your best gal friends because it’s not just about romantic relationships but also friendship. I just wished that the guys (David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Jason Lewis) were in it more so we could see things from men’s perspectives from time to time.
Private Dicks: Men Exposed (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★
This documentary, directed by Thom Powers and Meema Spadola, managed to cover a variety of topics that ranged from sexuality, why men don’t talk about penises, puberty, circumcision, sexual performance, sexually-transmitted diseases, penis sizes, to fertility in a span of less than an hour. Although it started off as hilarious because I was so shocked with how direct the interviewees were, I was touched because the film eventually focused on sensitive issues, such as being a transgender, with such insight and sensitivity. I loved that this documentary featured people from many backgrounds: gay, straight, transgender, bisexual, Asian, black, white, hispanic, old, young, middle aged. But what I loved most was the fact that it wasn’t afraid to show people with bodies that are not so-called ideal. I thought it gave the picture a new level of realism and honesty because more than half of Americans are not as glamorous as the people we see on television and films. However, if I were to pick out a weakness, it would definitely have to be a lack of depth. Although it was very organized because it was divided into chapters, the chapters only lasted for about ten minutes. Just when I was getting the feeling that we’re really getting to the meat of the issue (pun intended), it pulled away as if it was on a rush (pun intended again? I’m on a roll). This was particularly problematic for me when the transgendered people were being interviewed. Since I don’t know much about them, I was fascinated and I wanted to know more about their experiences–how they saw sexuality and what it meant for them to live in a society were being themselves is taboo. Perhaps another thirty minutes would have taken this movie from just good to pretty great. I also enjoyed the fact that even though there were a lot of jokes and funny anecdotes thrown around, it really emphasized the importance of health. More specifically, the importance of practicing safe sex. I particularly admired the segments when a guys would admit to having some sort of STDs; even though it wasn’t obvious, we could see in their eyes that maybe they would have done things a bit differently given the chance to go back in time. This may be a small film but I think it had some sort of an importance. It gives people a chance to showcase men’s sexual perspective and that we, too, like women, are willing to talk about sex in a direct, mature and fun way.
★★ / ★★★★
Jason Bateman stars as the owner of a company who had to deal with an increasing number of personal and professional problems after one of his workers (Clifton Collins Jr. who continues his streak of being a chameleon in every role) had a gruesome accident. On one front, Bateman wanted to sleep with another woman (Mila Kunis) with criminal tendencies because his wife (Kristen Wiig) used every excuse on the book to not have sex with him, unknowing of the fact that Kunis seduced Collins so that she could get the settlement. On another angle, with the help of Ben Affleck, Bateman hired a pool boy (Dustin Milligan) to seduce his wife so that he would not feel as guilty when he finally did make a move on Kunis. But Milligan eventually fell in love with Bateman’s wife. Written and directed by Mike Judge, I found myself laughing out loud as I watched the film but when the credits started rolling, I felt like it could have been funnier. Although the situational comedies were so unbelievable because everything felt planned to a tee, I found myself going along with it because the characters were so vibrant. My main problem with the movie, however, was that it didn’t quite know whether it wanted to be a dark comedy, a spoof, or a safe mainstream comedy. It had elements of each of those and that was a problem because the tone did not feel right. I felt like it held back with the politically incorrect jokes instead of really embracing them and pointing the fingers on the audiences. There were some clever writing here and there (like the main character being so unhappy with his life even though a lot of people–people who he was surrounded by–would be more than happy to trade places with him) but sometimes the writing succumbed to typicality–something that we can see on television shows like “The Office” or “Better Off Ted.” There were also elements of “Office Space”-like jokes such as the very idiosyncratic workers (led by the always fantastic Beth Grant) and the very annoying neighbor (David Koechner) who can’t take a hint but such scenes felt like secondary appendages instead of being part of a whole and enhancing the thesis of the picture. Perhaps if “Extract” had not been afraid to be a bit darker and edgier with its material, I would have given this film a higher rating. The movie satisfied but didn’t impress me.
★ / ★★★★
I thought this movie, directed by Simon Pearce, was quite emotionally bankrupt despite the sadness and despair presented on the outside. Cal (Wayne Virgo) is a gang member who hides his sexuality from the rest of the group and uses other unsuspecting men (Garry Summers) for occassional hook-ups. Cal is also attracted to Jonno (Tom Bott), a fellow gang member, but the feeling never seems to be reciprocal under the watchful eye of the angry and vengeful Nessa (Alice Payne). When the gang attacks a fellow homosexual (Marc Laurent), Cal jumps in to save him and the two soon develop a romantic relationship. However, that relationship costs him his place in the gang. I thought there was way too much violence in this movie. I get the fact that Pearce was going for realism but that technique could have worked if the picture was sensitive in its core. I felt the director trying to grasp at the real sadness of the various characters but it never reached that level because there were too many distracting elements. Instead of heart, we get these extended scenes of sex which I thought were really unnecessary. For a movie that runs for less than nintety minutes, I expected it to be as effecient as possible. Instead, the first twenty minutes consisted of sex, drugs and violence. Perhaps another reason why I never warmed up to “Shank” was the fact that I just don’t understand the mindset of gangs. From what I read from literature and learned from the classes I’ve taken, there was supposed to be this sort of kinship or sense of family within the group. But in here, I thought they were just really cruel to each other. I seemed like one little slip was enough for one to be kicked out of the group. I felt like everyone was divided so the film never reached some sort of balance or harmony when it comes to both its characters and tone. I even failed to recognize the chemistry between Bott and Laurent. I’m sorry but I just have trouble accepting the fact that a tough silent type like Cal would fall for a flamboyantly feminine guy like Olivier. They were too different; and even if they were, the director did not really explore their potential similarities (interests, point of views, et cetera) other than the fact that they were gay. It’s all too obvious and shallow for me to be really absorbed into the lives of these characters. At the end of the day, I regretted watching “Shank” because the premise had so much potential but the execution was so lazy and typical. If you’re looking for meaning, you won’t find it here.
Exterminating Angels (2006)
★★ / ★★★★
“Les anges exterminateurs” or “Exterminating Angels,” written and directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau, tells the story of a filmmaker (Frédéric van den Driessche) who wants to create a movie which documents what it takes for women to reach intense carnal pleasure. Two fallen angels (Margaret Zenou and Raphaële Godin) helps him on his project by whispering to other women (Lise Bellynck, Maroussia Dubreuil, Marie Allan) that they should audition and engage in sexual acts with each other. Even though the premise of the film was unconventional (to say the least), I thought it was interesting all the way through. It didn’t quite explore its emotional core but I appreciated the many ideas it had. I have no problem when it comes to full frontal nudity and even very realistic sexual acts but I thought that this film had way too many of those scenes. I thought the movie had a certain special glow whenever the characters were just talking to each other. Just like real people, each of the characters had a mask that sometimes wavered and the audiences got a peek of the characters’ true motivations and what they were really thinking and feeling instead of what they wanted the world to see. I also thought it was interesting how Driessche’ character failed to use a camera time and time again to record his supposed project about female sexuality. It then begs the question on whether he really did just use the girls for his own pleasure or if he really did care about them in some way. I admired this picture’s daring nature to tackle certain taboos head-on and that’s probably why I forgave its inconsistencies. It’s better than watching a mainstream project that puts a veil on sexuality because this one is not afraid to show the dark side of humanity and how passion sometimes blinds us and eventually might destroy us. But I should note that “Exterminating Angels” will be difficult to sit through, especially for those who are not used to foreign cinema and art-house pictures. Some may label this film as pretentious or even pointless. But what couldn’t be denied is the fact that it was raw, had some sort of brain behind it, and it transgressed may lines that most movies dare not cross.
Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★
I like to think of myself as an adventurous moviegoer so I’m on the constant lookout for movies that are vastly different from the mainstream. I’ve heard of the term “exploitation film” before (mainly from Quentin Tarantino because his movies often reference to that genre) but I never really knew what it really meant until I saw this film and did a bit of research about it. I really loved this documentary because I really learned a lot from it. I had no idea that Australia released all these cult classics, some of which have never been released in America. The way Australians made and released these daring movies in the 1970s and 1980s was so refreshing because nowadays, especially here in the United States, those kinds of movies are not made anymore. Once in a blue moon an exploitation flick (or a flick inspired from such like “Wolf Creek”) would be made but it was always under the radar no matter how good or bad it was. Speaking of good and bad, another thing that I loved about this documentary was it put the spotlight on good and bad movies alike and the people being interviewed explained why they thought a particular movie was good or bad (or sometimes even both). It fascinated me and I literally made a list of the movies wanted to check out. Some of them include “Mad Max” (1979), “Turkey Shoot” (1982), “Fairgame” (1985), “Dark Age” (1987), “Next of Kin” (1982), “Long Weekend” (1979), “Road Games” (1981), “Patrick” (1978), and others. The documentary, written and directed by Mark Hartley, was divided into several sections which started from movies about sex and nudity and ended with movies about car crashes and extreme violence. While it did cover a plethora of disparate motion pictures, I was also very impressed with the fact that it found enough time to discuss censorship (or lack thereof) in the era of Ozploitation. I wish this movement would repeat itself here in America because I’m starting to get sick of Hollywood trash being released in theaters weekly. Some days, I just want to see intense car chases with no real story but has a great sense of dialogue (like “Death Proof”) or even a movie about science gone wrong with buckets of blood on the side. Nowadays it’s all about the box office and watching this film really made me feel like the filmmakers wanted to make movies just because they were in love with the process–a reason why some of these exploitation films are so randomly original. I was so excited about the content of this movie, I decided to added some movies on my Netflix (the ones available in America anyway). I just want to see something so risqué and possibly something I can love and recommend to my friends when we don’t feel like going out and spending money.
Conversations with Other Women (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Conversations with Other Women,” directed by Hans Canosa started off with seemingly two strangers (Aaron Eckhart and Helena Bonham Carter) flirting and finding some sort of connection. Eventually, they realized that they’ve known each other in the past–ten years to be exact. What I love most about this picture was its ability to present opposites and the insights that go with them. For instance, Eckhart was more light-hearted and likes to makes jokes while Carter was more of a Debbie Downer and oozes sarcasm. The split-screen worked well because it played upon the very opposite of things, such as one screen would present the past while the other the present, one screen would present reality while the other fantasy, and then back to the characters as it captured the exact facial responses and body languages when the two would converse. I understand that a plethora of people were put off by this film because of the split-screen and the fact that the whole movie was an extended conversation between two past lovers. However, I didn’t find anything bothersome about it. In fact, the whole thing made me smile because it reminded me of great films like Louis Malle’s “My Dinner with Andre” and Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.” With a short running span of one hour and twenty minutes, it was very efficient because the first half was more about the comedy and rekindling an old romance, while the second half–after the sex which was the midpoint–focused more on the circumstances on why these two people, despite their obvious chemistry, could potentially never be together. I recommend this film to anyone interested in great conversations because it made me feel like I was right there in the room with them. To be honest, I found myself laughing out loud with some of the jokes and teasing that each character threw at each other, something that happens in real life. Another reason why I was glad to have finally seen this movie was seeing Carter play a “normal” person. Whenever I see her, I usually think of her being an evil witch (“Harry Potter” series) or a woman who serves pies made of human flesh (“Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”). This is a strong, quick-paced little movie and intelligent cinema lovers should not miss it.