Six Movies

December 21, 2007 at 11:39 pm | Posted in movies, rambling | 1 Comment
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No Country for Old Men — Interesting, i.e. enigmatic, but also a little dry and not in a humorous way (I’m not talking about the desert scenes either). The Coen Brothers are definitely going for dark, deadly, and deep, but I think they forgot wit along the way. Most people who saw this liked it, but I wonder if that’s just a testament to how well the trailer selected for the demographic most likely to enjoy the film. I’d go see Fargo first. Then the Big Lebowski. Then O Brother Where Art Thou. Then I’d use the money you have left to get a good book and a cup of coffee. Unless you plan to use it to see Atonement (below), in which case you should probably see this instead.

Atonement — Epic, emotional, long. If that sounds exciting, then go see this movie. If you are an aspiring film-maker and want to observe a veritable portfolio of tear-jerking and soul-wrenching techniques put to good use, see this movie. If you consume movies like they’re drugs and have built up so much tolerance to vicarious emotional trauma that every new trip to the theater is just an exercise in delaying withdrawal symptoms, you’ll get more bang for your buck somewhere else (i.e. go see No Country for Old Men).

I am Legend — I get a lot of crap for saying that 28 Days Later is one of my favorite movies, but there’s something to be said for impressive panoramas of empty postmodern landscapes and vaguely applied (but not blatantly wrong) scientific principles. The subtext was also a neat little commentary on human nature. Take that description of 28 days later, change “impressive” to “obviously fake and computer generated” and “not blatantly wrong” to “blatantly wrong,” and you have I am Legend. Oh, and the subtext this time is a thinly veiled plug for blind spiritual faith, because it turns out that although doing science fair experiments in your basement to find a cure for zombie virus is the most effective way to save mankind, it isn’t such a hot idea if you want to save your family.

Welcome to the Doll House — Proof that having roommates with quirky taste in films can sometimes pay off. The main character in this movie reminds me of Mouchette, a girl in the Robert Bresson film of the same name whose sole purpose in the plot, it seems, is to get shit on by fate. Without being excessively existential, this movie plays out a similar theme in exaggerated American 80’s suburbia. Ugly girl gets made fun of, ugly girl’s family hates her, ugly girl gets in all sorts of strange shenanigans, etc. A little painful to watch, but strangely enthralling.

Amores Perros — I’m already a big fan of the Magnolia-Traffic-Crash-Babel genre, so the minute I saw the set-up at the beginning of this movie — non-linear chronology, independent storylines announced by dramatic intertitles — I knew it had a lot to live up to. Most of these movies tend to flop a little unelegantly under the weight of their themes, and some times they’re so ambitious that they sink altogether (*cough*Babel*cough). Amores Perros was simple, coherent, and the acting was scorchingly good. A recent favorite.

Strangers on a Train — The only other Hitchcock film I’ve seen before this one is The Birds, and I guess I understand why he’s called the “Master of Suspense.” My enjoyment of most movies (not to mention that of my friends with whom I watch movies) has been ruined ever since I took an introductory course in film studies last year. That’s why I’m thankful we have directors like Hitchcock who make films like this that are begging to be analyzed to death. I can’t even name all the socio-literary discussions you can have over this movie, starting right at the first scene, a homoerotic moment in a train between, you guessed it, strangers. Then, it’s chest-clutching, stroke-inducing suspense right through 2 hours of man vs. man and man vs. himself archetypal conflict, to an ending that is way too exciting to have taken place on a merry go round. So, if high school English class discussions were the one thing that really made you feel alive, then this is the perfect movie for you.

25. Watching Pan’s Labyrinth. Not being moved.

June 4, 2007 at 1:02 am | Posted in movies, opinion, rambling | Leave a comment

So I know people all over the blogo-critico-media-sphere have been talking about how darkly gorgeous and life-affirming this movie was, but I have to be honest, I think I may have missed the point. Maybe I do remember perceiving a point along the way, and maybe I actually felt it hit me. It was somewhere left of center on my chest, which is what I would have expected based on my preconceptions about the film. But then I forgot about it. Sadly, the deepest feeling I was left with at the end of the film was puzzlement that I didn’t have any deeper feelings after the film.

I’d like to think, at least, that this wasn’t all the film’s fault (or heaven forbid, mine for not having the heart to be moved by it). It was my fault entirely, however, for failing to realize that my friends, among which the cynical and weak-stomached abound, were not going to thank me for inviting them over for nightmares, or worse, a feature-length affliction of sweaty hands and restlessness. More importantly, I underestimated the effect that this would have on my own experience. Watching a movie with a group of people prone to groaning about the violence or the acting or the unbearableness of the dramatic tension will thwart the most willing recipient of that elusive quality of good movie-watching, suspension of disbelief.

You’d think that “suspending” your “disbelief” would only really be important in very fanciful or crappy movies, Continue Reading 25. Watching Pan’s Labyrinth. Not being moved….

I am an escapist (spoiler alert)

March 26, 2007 at 12:51 am | Posted in movies | 2 Comments

Saw The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) the other day. Not everyone liked it as much as the academy did, it seems:

Hollywood makes this kind off movie, too, only instead of Art, we have Heart. Our Good Stasi and playwright rolled into one is a boxer named Rocky, a private named Ryan, a runt named Rudy, and even a German, Schindler and his list. If anything, Hollywood’s sentimental escapism is better than that of The Lives of Other People; most of us are mature enough to recognize that Rocky is a fantasy. And not even Rocky was as heavy-handed as the director of Other People’s Lives so unsure that we’ll get the message of the music that he tells us the song is called “Sonata for a Good Man.” (Jeff Sharlet)

This is fair. Most of the characters in the film are either soulless members of the socialist party or noble defenders of art, which in itself is used as a thinly veiled stand in for truth and beauty, whatever that means. The “moral ambiguity” that so many critics rave about in this movie is confined to the main character, Wiesler, an officer of the Stasi state police, and to Christa-Maria, the wife of the artist whom Wiesler is sent to spy on. The artist’s name is Dreyman, and he is almost as one-dimensional a caricature as the remaining characters in the movie. This is thankful because otherwise my ethical processing powers would have been overloaded by the sheer volume of gut-wrenching dilemmas that would have had to unfold. Long story short, Wiesler starts questioning the dehumanizing effects of his actions, and this elicits viewer sympathy. What causes his change of heart? Art. Love. Music. Everything that is good in the universe.

It works. If you’re expecting subtlety from a movie whose Hollywood-style trailer explicitly identifies it to grapple with intense moral issues in a totalitarian regime, then you’re looking in the wrong place. Continue Reading I am an escapist (spoiler alert)…

Ghosts in the Machine

January 5, 2007 at 2:03 am | Posted in movies, philosophical, rambling | 3 Comments

318092611_1d121e201c.jpgSaw I, Robot today. I’ve already read the generally negative reviews, but what the hell, films like these could be entertaining sometimes. Besides, it ended up jogging my thoughts (nothing else to think about while watching it) on a few themes in my posts lately, not the least of which may involve mind-body dualism, bioethics, and weapons development.

As a brief aside, I’ve been feeling very self-conscious about my own writing, after having the dogma of conciseness beaten into me by the Economist Style Guide. Whatever semantic bullshit that journalists manage to trim out of their own writing probably ends up in a prose Hell where Hollywood writers of dubious credentials troll around for ways to pad their scripts to feature-length. True to 99% of its genre, I, Robot manages this with a profound disregard for an engineer’s mindset and dialogs of hellish, redundant word-shit. There’s nothing interesting here that hasn’t been covered more profoundly and entertainingly in other movies or books. Revisit Minority Report, A.I. (as uneven the latter film is), or read Asimov’s short stories for a good dose of self-reflection — start with “The Last Question”. For some extra charming Willy S., watch the Pursuit of HappinessHappyness or listen to him rap.

For more metaphysical nonsense, go to Wikipedia and read about Gilbert Ryle’s refutation of Descartian dualism. What does that mean? I’m not really sure, but it seems someone other than me is having trouble buying the idea of separating souls from bodies.

But for the real question: does my computer have feelings? I’d say so, but like Will Smith in I, Robot, the Dell 600m’s dramatic range is limited to rebellious paranoia and fits of jittery anger.

2046

December 31, 2006 at 3:12 pm | Posted in movies | 1 Comment

Saw this film on the recommendation of a friend. It appears to have garnered a large amount of international praise, especially at Cannes and among art-house critics. A reviewer–is Yoda a film critic?–on the IMDB website cautions: “Easily misunderstood or confusing, it can be,” before lauding 2046 as providing “radical new ways of vicariously experiencing time and place.”

I can’t decide if that statement is insightful or meaningless, and I feel the same way about the film. It seems that Wong Kar Wai (the director) has drawn upon every single indie-turned-mainstream device he could think of to disguise and dismember elements of basic Chinese melodrama. There’s nothing wrong with melodrama — just see the brilliant and subtle films of Yasujiro Ozu. Here, however, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that obscure, fragmented, pretentious kitsch is still kitsch. Kitsch because Wong seems mainly concerned with throwing out a bunch of really easily recognized motifs. Did you know that a shot of a quivering face with the single tear down the side is the international symbol for sadness? The soundtrack has a similar effect: incessant repetition of folk/pop melodies whenever a romantic cue is needed. There are plenty of sentimental, hummable favorites, including a ubiquitous Bellini Aria (“Casta Diva“), the Mexican pop melody “Perfidia,” and what seems like a strange Asian adaptation of “Autumn Leaves.” Occasionally I can see the themes of love and betrayal trying to weave their way through the music, but I still can’t help but feel that I’m at a ballroom dance party with a bunch of middle-aged immigrants in Chinatown.

I did like the movie though. Continue Reading 2046…

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