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Recent Movies: The Dark Knight, The Queen of Versailles, Killer Joe; Books: The Happiness Project ************************

October 11, 2012

Recent Movies

The Dark Knight Rises

Continuing in the series of Batman films, the caped hero must once again save Gotham City from evil forces.

Like many big budget films, this one has great technical aspects while also having a plotline that is too busy and often confusing.  One such plot appears to include a revolt against the richest of the rich.  This would make a great storyline considering the collective conversation on this subject; however, this part of the story doesn’t seem to go very far.

But overall, we are there to see great special effects and photography.  Here the film does quite well.  Adding to this a total knock-out of an ending (and a great build-up toward it), this blockbuster entertains like it is supposed to.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * *

The Queen of Versailles

This US documentary follows the lives of David and Jackie Siegel.  David is the billionaire owner of Westgate Resorts and lives in Florida.  The film is like a reality show and takes place before and after the stock market crash of 2008.

In the beginning, the film is like a satire.  The excesses of the rich seem gaudy and laughable at times.  The attitudes of the couple and their large family seem way out of touch compared to the average person.

But all changes after 2008.  It seems even the rich were affected by the stock market crash.  In super-rich and less-rich times, the Siegels never seemed to be malicious, just perhaps naive.  Maybe, the purpose of the film is to expose this side of truth even though it can be difficult to sympathize with someone who helped George W. Bush get elected.

At 100 minutes, the film seems rather long near the end.  It helped to have interviewed the Philipina nannies of the household.  It would have been more effective to have interviewed former employees of the enterprise who lost their jobs and others affected in similar ways.  But overall, the film does well in exposing a group of people rarely covered in documentaries.  The film does not side one way or the other.  It exposes as much as possible leaving the viewers to decide.

Rating:   * * *

Killer Joe

In Texas, an extremely dysfunctional family uses a hired killer to gain from a life insurance policy on one of its members.

I’m very mixed on this film.  There are times the dialogue, execution, and acting produce such an intensity, it seems superb.  Particularly, Matthew McConaughey does a great job in the lead role.  He can go from highly principled to very decrepit without missing a beat.

The trouble is in the over-the-top violence especially at the end.  One character, the son in the family, is a dreadful loser that seems always in trouble.  The storyline seems to take sadistic pleasure in his troubles.

This film borrows heavily from “Fargo” but unlike “Fargo”, “Killer Joe” has no characters at all that are even slightly likeable.  One is OK (the daughter) but that is only because she is very naive.  The rest belong in a garbage heap.

Rating:   * * 1/2


“The Happiness Project”  by Gretchen Rubin

In this non-fiction best-seller, the author recounts her experiences of each month of a particular recent year when she made specific resolutions to make her life happier.
This seems like a mighty project not likely for the majority.  The author seems to be a type-A, high-energy extrovert – characteristics which I do not have.  Yet, although I would not likely take on such a large project in a condensed period of time, I was moved by much of this book and the insights gained by Rubin during her special year.
The next points are some of my favourite insights (SPOILER ALERT – skip to the end to avoid what is written in the book):
– good sleep is finally getting the recognition it deserves; it’s not a waste of time at all.
– sometimes we feel we’re missing something because we don’t have the likes and preferences of the majority.  Despite our attempts at “trying to like” something, why bother if it’s not working?  On the other hand, what we truly like might be something most would dismiss.  Pursue it any way.
– if a task takes less than a minute to complete, do it right away.  It feels better.
– sometimes, money can buy happiness so spend well on good things.
– it’s human nature to recall bad memories more often than good ones.  The antidote is to write a “refuge list” of good memories.  We can look at it when we’re stuck in negative thinking.
There are some sections of the book where I could not identify at all.  Thankfully, this was rare.  Most of the time, I was either interested or very interested.
Rating:   * * * 1/2

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