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September 10, 2005

Three Movies: Funny Ha Ha, Murderball, and Lila Says

I'm way behind on my movie reviews, and it doesn't look like I'll have time to catch up anytime soon, so here are some quick comments on a few movies I've seen recently (all links to IMDB pages):

Funny Ha Ha: I had a chance to see Andrew Bujalski's thoughtful, observant film at the AFI Silver last weekend (Bujalski attended the screening and fielded questions afterwards), and this film has ceratinly stuck with me (and really deserves its own review). Funny Ha Ha focuses on the experiences of Marnie, a twenty-something recent college graduate who is doing boring temp work. She also has an unrequited crush on Alex, and the film captures Marnie's awkwardness very effectively, especially through the halting dialogue. The cinetrix's review conveys much of what I like about this film and, more importantly, makes the point that it deserves wider distribution. If you get a chance to see Funny Ha Ha, it's well worth it.

Murderball: One of the hit documentaries of 2005 has been Murderball, the story of the United States Quadreplegic Rugby team. I didn't realize until the opening credits that MTV had produced the film, and that aesthetic--for both good and ill--informs the film. U.S. Quad rugby star Mark Zupan is certainly an MTV figure, with his musical tastes and his tattoos and goatee, and the heavy music underscored the hard-hitting matches quite well, and the chair-level camerawork serves the film's subject nicely. But MTV's documentaries have always struck me as pretty shallow, usually offering imaginary solutions of emotional reconciliation to real problems, and I think that Murderball does fall into that category. Like Rachael, I'd expected a documentary that didn't conform to past feel-good sports narratives, but on that level, it felt like more of the same, especially when we see Zupan, at the end of the film, introudicng soldiers who were wounded in Iraq to the sport (that being said, to show wounded soldiers in an American documentary is still somewhat rare given our mainstream media's sanitized coverage of the war).

Rachael's aside ("Is there a women's quad rugby team?") raises another observation I had about this film: its exploration of crises in masculinity. The men on the quad rugby team brag about their ability to have sex and meet women, and the quad rugby groupies are certainly an important part of the film, just as the sport seems to be a way of re-asserting one's toughness. Perhaps more interesting was the Canadian coach, Joe Soares, a former U.S. quad rugby star who was dropped from the team. His attempts to regain a clearer sense of his own masculinity play out in his treatment of his able-bodied son, who shows no interest in sports but a talent for playing music (the viola, I believe). At the beginning of the movie, especially, Joe is clearly conflicted about his son's more stereotypically feminine interests in music. And, following the question of masculinity a little further, as Rachael's commnt implies, we don't see any female quad rugby players, although the film is careful to show (several times) a wounded female soldier showing interest in the sport.

Lila Says: French teen romance that is probably most interesting for its exploration of a relationhip between a shy Arab male and a French teenage girl. Hearing Lila repeat her inreasingly elaborate sexual narratives is also entertaining, but the film overall seemed trapped in the "I-was-never-the-same-again-after-that-summer" genre without doing anything terribly new with it.

I saw Wong Kar Wei's 2046 last night and loved it. I'll try to write a short review later, but given that the film may only be in town for a few days, I'm going to make a quick plug for seeing this beautifully shot film on a big screen.

Posted by chuck at September 10, 2005 10:45 AM

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