We had another quiet weekend, our last for a little while as the next two will be busy. The Gryphon and I watched several movies.
On Saturday, we went to the theater and saw Kung Fu Panda, which I really wanted to see for three reasons: Jack Black, martial arts and pandas. I was not disappointed: the movie was delightful.
Kung Fu Panda is fun for both kids and adults, an animated feature about the efforts of a panda named Po (Jack Black) to realize his destiny as the Dragon Warrior, despite a skeptical Kung Fu master, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). The animation was well-executed. Even the fight scenes were well-choreographed, considering it was an animated feature. There is plenty of humor, plus a couple touching moments, as well. The movie also boasts a well-constructed story line with some lessons about perseverance and self-acceptance that are good for all ages.
Jack Black was perfectly cast as the lead, Po the Panda. In fact, it sounded at times as if it was written for him, such as the opening lines: "Legend tells of a legendary warrior whose kung fu skills were the stuff of legend. It is said that his enemies would go blind from over-exposure to pure awesomeness!"
An interesting observation about Jack Black: he's a very funny guy, and even though his initial forays into comedy were not so family friendly, such as the MTV series based on his two-member rock band, Tenacious D , he's just as funny working in a PG-rated movie.
So if you love animation, Kung Fu, pandas, or especially Jack Black, run out and see this movie. There is no charge for awesomeness, or attractiveness. (But you'll probably have to pay to get in.)
The next movie was one we'd rented from Blockbuster, L.A. Blues. We watched this Sunday afternoon while our cable was down for an extended period.
This movie is a pared-down independent production, written and directed by Ian Gurvitz, his first film after writing many episodes of Wings, Becker, and one of Frasier, among other TV credits. It stars Kevin Rahm, William Ragsdale, Dave Foley, Sean Maguire, Anthony Michael Hall, Nicholas D'Agosto, Marsha Thomason.
L.A. Blues could easily have been a play. It's set in one main location, a bar owned by gambling addict Bobby Gordon (Kevin Rahm). The movie opens with a gun shot and then somebody being taken away in an ambulance.
In a voice-over, Bobby explains that guys don't really talk to each other about their emotions, which is why he never realized a friend would try to commit suicide. A detective comes up to interview him, and the rest of the movie is sort of a whodunnit, as he recalls the events of the last year. The whole time, the viewer wonders who is in the ambulance.
While this sounds like a pretty dark premise, the movie is more of a dramedy, combining elements of humor with drama. These six men hang out in the bar. Each one of them, it turns out, faces some sort of personal crisis throughout the year. The movie was well-constructed, keeping the viewer interested and providing a few surprises along the way.
The ensemble cast works well together, and it's fun to see how the characters transform over the course of the year. For example, the young writer, Adam Cooper (played by Nicholas D'Agosto, from the second season of Heroes), arrives in L.A. with bright hopes for the future. He becomes progressively more cynical as he faces a series of setbacks.
Likewise, the wise-cracking, self-serving agent, Larry (Anthony Michael Hall), also goes through a dramatic transformation.
While the movie is a talker, the interactions through the characters bring to life their lives. There are also a few glimpses of the outside world, where necessary. Yet, the movie never feels claustrophobic, like one-set movies sometimes do.
The best part of this movie is that it addresses the issue of communication between male friends. It's true that guys don't open up emotionally very often, even if they do tell each other what's going on in their lives. They crack jokes sometimes; while at others they are more vulnerable, more supportive. And as the bartender observes at the end, they muddle through.
The Gryphon and I didn't expect much from this movie. We've had bad experiences picking up unknown indie movies in the past, even if they star people we like. I found this movie, though, to be worth viewing.
Later that day we watched another Blockbuster rental, The Darjeeling Limited, the lastest offering from director Wes Anderson (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore).
The movie tells the story of three estranged brothers, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman. The oldest brother, Francis (Owen Wilson), who recently survived a traumatic car accident, has arranged a train trip across India with his brothers, with the dual purpose of spiritual journey and brotherly bonding time.
Francis has planned out every moment of their journey, down to having an assistant place a laminated itinerary under their door every day. On the itinerary: visits to holy sites, as well as enacting certain rituals given to him by a guru.
But of course, it soon becomes clear the younger brothers are unwilling participants in the plan, participating only because of their older brother's force of will. They get in trouble with the train personnel, argue with each other and betray confidences, acting as if they'd never matured past the ages of 10, 8 and 6.
The movie is paired with a short, called "Hotel Chevalier," set in Paris, involving just Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman. The short provides some back story to the main feature, as you learn about the failed love affair between those two, a relationship that is frequently referred to throughout The Darjeeling Limited. You can watch the movie without the short, but I'd recommend watching them both, just because it introduces some of the themes of the feature.
The Gryphon noted that the film has a very Seventies feel, and it does: the use of saturated colors, the slow pacing, the use of music paired with slow motion during dramatic scenes. Some of these same techniques were used by Wes Anderson in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
It helps, also, that the main characters all seem out of place. Jack (Jason Schwartzman) wears a very 1970s hair cut, while Peter (Adrien Brody) wears his father's oversized sunglasses. Francis wears facial bandages throughout most of the movie. They inhabit their own world: strangers not just to the land they travel through but to each other, and even to themselves.
While L.A. Blues explores communications between men, The Darjeeling Limited examines how brothers connect. The Darjeeling Limited has a stronger visual style and makes effective use of themes and subtext, but the dialogue and the acting in L.A. BluesL.A. Blues and The Darjeeling Limited worked extremely well as a double feature.
You can't plan a spiritual journey, but one might find you.