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Rocket Science (2007), Pickpocket (1959), Triad Election (2006)

triadelection.jpgI decided to suspend my Zip subscription for a few months. For those not in the know, Zip is a Canadian DVD-by-mail service, like Netflix in the US. You make a list of movies, and they are sent to your mailbox — return the DVD using the included envelope, and a new one is sent to you, ad infinitum.

The problem is, with Zip, you don’t have much say over which DVD gets sent, and lately, it seems to have gotten even worse. In theory, the higher on your list a DVD is, the sooner it will be sent to you. But lately, I’ve been getting DVDs further and further down my list. It’s been weeks since anything on my top-ten has been sent, and my mailbox has been full of things I’m really only marginally interested in. Inevitably, the discs just to sit on top of the TV until I’m in the mood to watch them. And these days, I’ve mostly been in the mood to do things other than watch my 43rd-most-anticipated movie. Like finally mastering barre chords on my guitar and replaying the brilliant 1993 PC game X-COM, which I finally managed to get running on my MacBook.

However, I’m all about not wasting money (lately), so I sat down this past week and watched the last three Zip DVDs I had collecting dust. All of which were, well, slightly disappointing, in different ways.

  • Rocket Science is an indie high-school comedy-drama about a shy stutterer who joins the debate team to be close to his unattainable crush, a cartoonish overachiever who claims she can see the potential behind his awkwardness. I was curious to see it primarily because the director also did the incredibly winning documentary Spellbound, but unfortunately, it’s yet another instance of a talented documentarian making a mediocre feature (see also, Errol Morris, Joe Berlinger, Michael Moore, etc.). It’s not an unpleasant way to pass a 100 minutes, but it’s hard to think of anything in the movie that hasn’t been done earlier and better in Rushmore, Little Miss Sunshine, Freaks & Geeks or Thumbsucker. (For starters. The quirky coming-of-age story isn’t exactly untrod ground.)
  • Pickpocket is a 1959 Robert Bresson film that I was curious to see since it’s a favourite of both Paul Schrader and Roger Ebert. Unfortunately, I found the damn thing more tedious than engrossing. A lot of it comes down to a complaint I’ve had about other Robert Bresson films — as a filmmaker, he’s a brilliant novelist. Everybody speaks (or thinks, or writes) in long philosophical paragraphs laden with existential questions before taking ambiguous-but-revealing actions (well, everybody except the women, of course, who don’t get any inner life). The film’s vaunted “stylishness” is mostly in countless inserts of pickpocketing, which would be cool if they weren’t so laughably, distractingly phoney. Or maybe I’m wrong — maybe the style in France in the 1950s was for men to balance wallets precariously between their shirts and lapels, and for women to carry wads of loose cash poking out the tops of open handbags. That said, there are some powerful, brilliant moments in the film, especially the ending. I bet they were even better in the book that was originally in Robert Bresson’s head.
  • Finally, Triad Election (aka Election 2) is Johnny To’s sequel to his brilliantly amoral Hong Kong gangster epic Election (not to be confused with the Reese Witherspoon-Matthew Broderick one). The sequel ups the violence and tragedy to operatic, Godfather-esque levels and shows the relationship between the HK triads and Chinese government, but it leaves behind the penetrating dissection of HK capitalism that was at the heart of the first film. Instead, we get more traditional issues of character and plot. This somehow makes the film both more and less grounded, and a bit less exiting. It’s still great to see Johnny To and Simon Lam at work, though.