★★ / ★★★★
A journalist (Kenneth Branagh) divorced his wife (Judy Davis) because he wanted to be with other women–women who were some type of a celebrity, like a supermodel (Charlize Theron), an actress (Melanie Griffith), or a very successful book editor (Famke Janssen). One of his main reasons for divorcing his wife was, as he claimed, he was unhappy with the way she was in bed. The insecure wife, on the other hand, met a seemingly perfect television producer (Joe Mantegna). She could not believe the fact that she had met someone who was willing to devote everything to her. She suspected there must be something wrong with him and so she waited for the relationship to go haywire. Throughout the film, the journalist became unhappier while the ex-wife’s luck turned for the better. Directed by Woody Allen, “Celebrity” was ultimately a disappointment despite its interesting subject matter. I think it is more relevant than it was more than ten years ago because of the recent surge in technology that allows us to get “closer” to our celebrities. Unfortunately, I thought the humor was too broad. Did it soley want to be a showbiz satire, a marriage drama, or a character study? It attempted to be all of the above but it didn’t work because the protagonists lacked an ounce of likability. The journalist was desperate in getting into women’s pants while the ex-wife pitied herself so much that it was impossible to root for her. Their evolution and the lessons they learned (or failed to learn) were superficial at best. Instead, I found myself focusing on the many interesting and vibrant side characters. For instance, I loved Theron’s obsession with her health as well as her outer appearance. It was interesting to see her and the journalist interact because I constantly wondered what she saw in him. As the night when on, layers were revealed as to why while some details were best remain as implications. Leonardo DiCaprio as the very spoiled young actor was great to watch as well. His arrival on screen was perfect because it was at the point where the script was starting to feel lazy. The characters had no idea what they wanted or what they wanted to say. DiCaprio’s character was invigorating to have on screen because he wanted everything but at the same time his wants lacked some sort of meaning. Even though the spoiled actor and the journalist did not get along well, they were more similar than they would like to believe. While cameos were abound such as the surprising appearance of Donald Trump, I wish the filmmakers trimmed the extra fat in order to make a leaner film with astringent wit. It had some great moments but they were followed by mindless sophomoric jabber (uncharacteristically not charming considering it’s a Woody Allen film) that quickly wore out their welcome.
Good Hair (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
When I look at people, the first thing I notice about them is their hair. Directed by Jeff Stilson, “Good Hair” follows Chris Rock as he interviews all sorts of people from the United States and India about hair: how natural African-American hair is now regarded as less valuable and less appealing as European and Asian hair. I thought this documentary was absolutely fascinating. I learned so much because I don’t have the kind of hair that African-Americans do so I don’t really know much about their experiences and the pressures they feel about getting “good hair,” a type of hair that the media glamorizes. For me the film reached its highest point when Rock went to India and tried to learn about why so much hair was coming from India. I didn’t know that some Indians viewed having hair as a vanity so they sacrifice their hair for a higher power. While in America, hair symbolizes power and directly correlates to one’s self-esteem. I thought that contrast was so nicely done by Stilson and I realized that, despite the film’s amusing look at the hair industry, there was an inherent sadness about it all. I couldn’t believe that hair cost thousands of dollars and some women would rather pay for a weave than make sure that they have food on the table. On the other side of the spectrum, women choose to buy very dangerous “relaxers,” which is pretty much sodium hydroxide, a very strong chemical. I loved the way the picture showed an experiment where a can was placed in a container full of NaOH with varying rate of exposure. (I’m a sucker for science experiments.) I was so shocked when one of the cans literally melted when exposed to NaOH for about five or six hours. The movie then connected the usage of sodium hydroxide to health–how some parents choose for their children, who are barely three years old, to undergo such extreme (and painful) chemical application for the sake of having so-called good hair. What didn’t work for me, however, was the whole hair competition angle. I thought it made the picture very convoluted and it took away some of the movie’s power because the pre-competition and competition scenes lacked momentum. I wanted more scenes of very funny conversations among Chris Rock, regular folks and celebrities. I thought it was a laugh riot when the film switched its focus to men and how they felt pressure to give their girlfriends money for a weave. All these elements show that having “good hair” is not just a woman’s issue nor is it even a race issue. It’s about increasing number of individuals adapting to a particular mindset of society regarding what is considered beautiful and what isn’t.
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell (2009)
★ / ★★★★
I decided to watch this movie because I loved Matt Czuchry in “Gilmore Girls” and I wanted to see what else he could do outside of that show. Directed by Bob Gosse and based on a novel by by Tucker Max, “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” was about three guys (Czuchry, Jesse Bradford, Geoff Stults) who went to another city to go cruising and visit strip clubs for a bachelor party. This picture was unapologetically crude throwing gay jokes and lines about being violent to women like there’s no tomorrow. But in a way, I expected those because I read the film’s reviews prior. However, the issue I can’t forgive was its unbearable writing. With movies like “The Hangover” and “Hot Tub Time Machine,” they’re successful (or partially successful) because even though those movies had characters who acted like teenagers, the jokes were funny and we could root for the characters in some way. In this movie, I didn’t see anything special in any of the characters because the writing rested on frat boy typicality. When the movie tried to persuade the audiences that the lead character had some sort of a realization that his narcissism was ruining people’s lives, I just didn’t believe it. In fact, I literally scoffed during his redemption scene. If they were going to tell really mean jokes for pretty much the entire film, the filmmakers should have had the bravado to not follow Gosse’s book and really stick with what the main character was about: his love for himself and himself only. Suddenly changing a character for the sake of having a happy ending doesn’t work with a movie like this. For me, it shows that even though the material was edgy, it was still afraid to push the envelope. I have to admit that I did laugh with some of the lines that were said, especially by Bradford. There was something about his geekiness that somewhat reminded me of myself especially when I get in a really bad mood. I thought that out of the three, he was the most interesting. He had a heart despite his (sometimes funny, sometimes annoying) temper tantrums. As for Stults’ character, he was just boring. There was no dimension to him at all and I think he failed to take responsibility for his own actions. People might say he’s the nicest guy out of the three jerks but I’d argue otherwise. “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” had probably ten minutes of great material but the rest was just empty calories.