As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Archive for the ‘New’ Category

Prometheus

Posted by Hedwig on June 1, 2012

cross-posted on tumblr.

PROMETHEUS (Scott, 2012) – I was planning to unleash some snark about how inconsistent and poorly thought-through the science in PROMETHEUS was, but someone’s already done that for me (warning: VERY spoilery). I was going to refer to one of the actors as “a poor man’s Tom Hardy”, but that’s apparently not very original either.

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Thor

Posted by Hedwig on April 28, 2011

I’ve been posting short things about films on tumblr lately, but this post expanded to the point where I thought I’d cross-post it here, too.

THOR is an entertaining, well-paced, action-filled opener of the 2011 blockbuster season. It’s often funny, it has an intriguing, conflicted villain (which is an improvement over the two IRON MAN movies), and Chris Hemsworth acquits himself quite well, especially in the Earth-based scenes. It also caters to the audience in pleasant ways: he walks around shirtless for a full minute -maybe two- and while I generally like less bulky guys, I have to say, da-yum*. The Asgard and Jotumheim scenes are all CGI-gloss, but I guess that could not be avoided. And I’m impressed Branagh managed to keep the film tonally similar to the IRON MAN movies, which is promising for further entries in this Marvel series.

Unfortunately, this is one of those movies where you can glimpse the scaffold beneath the story. For instance, from the way the story resolves, I would guess that THE AVENGERS will use Thor as a (semi-literal) deus ex machina. Also, I understand that the whole movie revolves around Thor learning a lesson, but his reversal is rather sudden and extreme. And there are more nitpicks: Hopkins really hams it up (though I guess it’s hard to underplay Odin All-father), Portman doesn’t quite pull off the scientific mumbo-jumbo (but I appreciated seeing a female physicist – we don’t get a lot of representation on-screen), and Thor’s quartet of friends didn’t really get much to do. All-in-all: worth seeing, but non-essential.

A note on 3D: in my city, I couldn’t see THOR in 2D, and this kind of pisses me off. It’s not so much the price hike (though 11 euros is quite a lot of money), but it’s an ‘upgrade’ I’d rather opt out of. I only seldom see the added value of 3D (the scene with the clown in TOY STORY 3 is the only example that comes to mind), and I don’t get the claims of realism: in fact it’s often detrimental to immersion. For instance, it doesn’t go well with fact cutting and hand-held-like shots, where it often leads the audience to look ‘through’ the action, but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone. It doesn’t combine with other cinematic tools, either: in THOR, there is a shot where the foreground suddenly becomes blurry because we’re supposed to focus on something in the background. In 2D this works as a depth indication, and it’s a trope we’re used to as a guide to the eye, but in 3D it just takes you out of the experience: if you were truly watching at a 3D images, you would be able to focus your eyes wherever you wanted. I don’t want to rule out all 3D (I hope they’ll bring out CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS here at some point), but it would be nice if it was an option instead of a mandatory drag, and if people realized how much 3D limits the director’s bag of cinematic tricks and acted accordingly.

*couldn’t find a good still of that for drooling purposes, sorry. Hope this one will do, instead.

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Bright Star

Posted by Hedwig on October 29, 2009

Film_BrightStar-570The friend I went to see Bright Star with liked the movie, but mentioned she liked The Duchess better. The comparison is interesting: both movies, set less than half a century apart, are about women who express themselves mainly though clothing, and who cannot marry who they wish. It surprised me at the time that I enjoyed the Duchess quite a bit, but in my eyes, Bright Star is a much more interesting – if flawed – film.
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More observations about Basterds

Posted by Hedwig on August 26, 2009

*Chap. 1: at first, the switch from French to English proposed by Landa seems a cheap trick from the director, to avoid more subtitles. I didn’t wonder about Landa’s motivation, because I assumed it to be artificial. However, as it turns out in the crescendo towards the end, Landa did have a very specific motivation for the switch, indeed, and it was no QT ploy.

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*Chap. 2: After the western opening, we now move to farce. I love how there are nested stories here. There’s what really happened: that the soldier betrayed his fellows to save his life, and was let go accordingly. There’s the story Aldo Raine feeds him: that they let him escape to strike fear into the hearts of the nazis. And then there’s the story that Hitler, after hearing (the fake) story #2, orders the soldier to tell: that he daringly escapes. Thus the coward becomes a hero – all it takes is two propagandistic spins. In fact, propaganda really is (one of) the continuing thread(s) through this movie: from Chap. 1, wherein Landa references the portrayal of Jews as rats, all the way to the end.
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Inglourious Basterds

Posted by Hedwig on August 24, 2009

Who’d have thought: Tarantino does it again, “it” being making a quintessential Tarantino movie, talky, slow, yet exhilarating too, at moments horrifying, and veering wildly from authentic dread to over-the-top absurdism. In one word, it’s awesome – though admittedly not unproblematic.

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The main objection to the film, from venerable people like Daniel Mendelsohn at Newsweek and Jonathan Rosenbaum, is that the film is morally despicable, “akin to holocaust denial”. I can see the point… or could if it was unambiguous that Tarantino wanted us to root for the Basterds and cheer their vicious tactics, wanted us to glory in this revenge story, the third in a row in his recent filmography (counting Kill Billas one film). However, I’m not sure his intention is so crude. In fact, I think the case can be made that in all three films, there are significant question marks* as to whether the revenge is satisfactory and/or fully deserved. (warning: here be SPOILERS)

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Public Enemies

Posted by Hedwig on August 9, 2009

I love gangster movies. I love the fedoras, the guns, the cars. I love the patter, the clothes, the robberies. I love how inherently tragic they are: in these movies, crime is exiting, seductive, but ultimately fatal. It used to be because of the production code, of course, but I can understand why it stuck: it’s part of the allure of the gangster that he’s not only pursued by the police, but also, more figuratively, by the inevitability of his (and sometimes her) own death. They live life as fully as they can because they feel so acutely that it could end at any time, try as they might to convince others – and themselves – that they’re immortal. Ironically enough, of course, they are immortal in a sense, because they survive in the public’s imagination. They survive in those gangster movies, and they would probably not live on so fiercely if not for their magnificent deaths. If they were not doomed.

publicenemies

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Curious Cases

Posted by Hedwig on February 8, 2009

It’s been three days since I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and I still don’t know what to think about it. I found myself attacking the movie one evening, then defending it to someone else the next day. It has elements that got to me, almost despite myself, but there were also moments of annoyance, and of the 13 Oscar nominations it got, I think only the technical ones are deserved, and the one in the writing category especially is ludicrous, because the script is undoubtedly the movie’s biggest liability.

I feel like the bad (the cheap usage of Katrina for the sake of one beautiful shot, the empty romance, the dullness and earnestness of Benjamin) has already been sufficiently expounded upon by others. It’s true: the movie is heavy-handed, overlong, doesn’t really earn its emotional moments, and does too little with its premise. But there were moments that provided a glimpse of what this movie COULD have been like, and while David Fincher might indeed be an ‘auteur-facile’, he does a few things very well. And, well, I’m just going to come out and say it: the movie got to me, and for every moment of annoyance, there was a moment of beauty that almost made it seem alright.

For instance: can we talk about Tilda Swinton’s awesomeness? Her character is the most fascinating thing in the film, and that’s as much (if not more) due to her than to the way her character is written. She could easily have been seen as pathetic, or overly predatory, or a shallow sophisticate or, you know, simple. Instead, she seems to exist on a plane of her own, full of nostalgia and unfulfilled potential and humanity. 

The curious thing about this movie is that the main plot is so much less interesting and touching than the people on the periphery. I absolutely loved the prelude with Elias Koteas as Mr. Cake, I loved the man who got hit by lightning seven times (and the beautifully made, slapstick-style flashbacks), and while Captain Murphy verged on caricature (and the hummingbird stuff was groan-inducing), the part about him being an “artist” was kind of wonderful. 

It’s these side characters that make it impossible for me to just dismiss Benjamin Button (something my hip, sarcastic side would love to do). It’s the experiments with style that make it impossible for me not to admire Fincher’s skills. But as an exploration of mortality and aging, the movie simply fails, and ends with the supposedly uplifting (and patently false) statement that “it’s never too late to make something of your life”. 

“It is always too late to make something of your life”, on the other hand, would seem to be (one of) the message(s) of another curious movie about which my feelings are muddled, and which I just watched for a second time: Synecdoche, NY. I don’t want to say too much about it here, since I have a Muriels piece about it due soon, but while that movie, too, is deeply flawed, it is a much more complex, more layered, more daring piece of art, that strikes a lot closer to home, and manages to really make you uneasy about your impending doom. “Nothing lasts”, says Benjamin Button. But Synecdoche shows it. And makes fucking sure you feel it.

 

This has turned into one muddled post, hasn’t it? I guess my writing muscles are out of shape, or some other mixed metaphor. Or maybe I should blame it on how utterly unsettling Synecdoche, NY. is. In any case: check out Muriel! She’s awesome.

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Revolutionary Road – on (dis)contentment (a rant)

Posted by Hedwig on February 4, 2009

The problem, I think, is contentment.

I could make a lot of excuses for the dearth of blog posts in the past 8 months. First I was too busy finishing my thesis, then I had nothing to do and it made me sluggish and unproductive, and now my new job is leaving me exhausted… but the truth is, the fact that 8 months ago today I kissed a certain boy has a lot more to do with it than all of the above.

I don’t mean, necessarily, that he takes up time that I used to spend blogging, though that’s probably part of it. More importantly, for writing (or any kind of artistic expression, however mundane) you need an itch. To the risk of sounding crude: lately, my every itch has been scratched. I feel – the word sounds almost dirty – happy. Profoundly satisfied. Content.

hopper_morning1

Why complain? I don’t. However, something gnaws at me sometimes. A sense that while evenings on the couch cuddling and watching movies can be incredibly nice (and not at all boring, like I imagined in my single days), they may, in a larger sense, be “wasted”. A sense that while it’s nice to feel validating, the quest for validation was an important one, too easily abandoned. A sense that my boyfriend might be mighty good for my happiness, self-esteem and joie de vivre (not to mention personal hygiene), he might not really help my “self-development” – whatever the hell that might be. 

All the above to explain why Revolutionary Road resonated with me far more than it probably had any right to, considering Sam Mendes’ facile observations and that his glossy surfaces hide mostly platitudes – Mad Men is undoubtedly better. I’m probably too easily swayed – I liked American Beauty quite a lot when I first saw it, and it’s more painfully flawed every time I see it. But Revolutionary Road inspired me to write this post, the first one in a long while, and I think it’s worth exploring why. Read the rest of this entry »

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Australia

Posted by Hedwig on December 21, 2008

I find it hard to explain my love for Baz Luhrman – in fact, I hardly understand it myself. After all, I tend to go for the understated movies a lot of time, the spare movies, the carefully composed ones, the intellectual, the thought-out, the nuanced. None of these terms can be applied to Luhrman’s oeuvre. Still, I absolutely love Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet, and I go back to his out-there Aussie debut, Strictly Ballroom, over and over again.

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Now, there’s Australia, which I dragged the boyfriend to last night: a big sprawling mess of a movie which doesn’t really work, and which can be easily criticized: it’s really two movies in one, with an awkward interlude, it has some gaping plot holes, in its eagerness to combat racism it way overshoots into magical negro territory…but I kind of love it nonetheless. Well, love might be too big a word. But I couldn’t quite resist its all-out, enthusiastic, unrelenting celebration of movie magic.

I know, “unrelenting” usually isn’t seen as a positive thing, but let me come to Australia‘s defense. It might fail on a storytelling level (ironic for a movie which posits people are nowhere without a story), but as a throwback to the golden days of epic Hollywood film-making,  it works. I’m not saying it’s a new Gone with the Wind (though it shares some of its themes, and the uncomfortable treatment of race), but that wasn’t the only film made back then. There were plenty of others that were more about the scenery, the beautiful people, and the grand emotions than about a story told well. Plenty of others which aspired to nothing more than to give every member in the audience – be they male or female, old or young – something to look at.

And that Australia does: the reluctant bf had prepared himself for a rough two-and-a-half hours, but while he didn’t love it, he did enjoy watching it; the movie has plenty of sexual moments if you know where to look (see for instance how the Drover is fastening his belt as he leaves Kidman to go droving), but it’s essentially chaste, and the violence is kept mostly off-screen, so you could absolutely take kids; and there’s some history, for those interested in history there’s plenty of that. And for those, like me, who appreciate looking at strapping, manly men without their shirt on, well, there’s plenty: Jackman is filmed the way usually only women are, particularly in a washing scene which would definitely get my panties in a bunch, and he’s a gorgeous, gorgeous sight (I gushed so much that it made the bf slightly jealous, something I’ve tried and failed to achieve for some time now).

 

Most of all, Australia is a movie-movie, without any pretense of realism, and I think that’s why it appeals to me despite its flaws. See, my dad bought a HDTV. And you know what? I don’t really like it. Everything looks too sharp, too precise, too REAL on it. That sounds like a strange criticism, I know: shouldn’t I, as a film buff, want the image to be as crisp and clear as it can be? But in the cinema, the images aren’t so sharp either: they’re detailed, but there’s a gloss, a typical movie sheen that makes it, paradoxically, easier for me to immerse myself. It even makes it easier to care: I cry much more easily at movies than I do at real life tragedies. I see enough of life around me already, and I want my movies to be movie-ish. And it’s hard to get more movie-ish than this.

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Quantum of Solace

Posted by Hedwig on November 12, 2008

One of the reasons I’ve always liked Bond films is their reliability. The movie would open with a pre-credits action sequence mostly unrelated to the rest of the movie. The openening credits would feature abstracted nekkid women. Bond would wear a tuxedo on several occasions. Pretty much every vehicle he used (be it a car, a truck, a boat, a train, a plane etc.) would be destroyed. There would be gadgets, terrible, innuendo-laden puns and other corny one-liners. Bond would sleep with at least two girls, and one of them was likely to turn out evil. Bond would drink martinis (shaken, not stirred) and at one point say “The name is Bond, James Bond”. And the location where the final fight took place would go up in flames.

I’ll admit: as genre rules go, these are fairly scrict. But I don’t think they’re particularly restrictive. Connery’s tougher, more sexist and arrogant Bond fared fine within its limit, as did Roger Moore with his jokier, sillier interpretation, and Lazenby with his more human one. Yet to telegraph that they’re “re-inventing” the franchise, that they’re “updating it for the 21st century”, the maker of Quantum of Solace have discarded about half of them, leaving us with a fairly competent action movie that’s barely recognisable as Bond.

And you know what also used to be a Bond tradition? Action scenes you could oversee. They were grand and they were, on occasion, frenetic, but they never were chaotic. The first 10, 15 minutes of Quantum, I had a lot of trouble following what was going on. When an italian policeman said “it’s a black [car] pursuing a gray Aston Martin”, I was relieved, because I wasn’t even sure how many cars there were, and the foot chase through Sienna that follows is incomprehensible. Fast editing isn’t bad, perse (see also: The Bourne Ultimatum, for an example of how it should be done), and I’m not even saying it’s out of place in a Bond movie, but to me, it jarred, much more so that the great black-and-white opening scene in Casino Royale.

But to throw a bone to the old-time fans, would it have hurt them for Bond to say his name? I’m ok with leaving out the Martinis (though he does drink a couple of Vespers), and I suppose I can live with a few one-liners less, but now Bond gets a girl into bed (the only one, incidentally) without saying anything. Bond is supposed to be the suave, seductive spy. Leave out the two adjectives, and you just have Bourne v. 2.0. 

I complain too much, I know. After all, I can see the attraction of this grittier, more violent Bond. The action scene that takes place during Tosca is pretty much fantastic. Jeffrey Wright isn’t given much to do as Felix Leiter, but he still rules. They seem to have used “Quantum” in the title more or less correctly (in the QM sense, so to mean something incredible small, not big as with those moron’s who use the term “quantum leap”). And partly because tradition of one exotic place after the next is still firmly in place, the Bond movie is still that very elusive thing: a movie every member of my family can enjoy (yes, even my mom – Tosca is her favorite opera). 

I’m curious where they’ll go next. Now that the “new Bond” is firmly established, I kind of hope they’ll let him relax a little (while staying gritty), let him joke a bit and be the deadly seductor he’s supposed to be. And even if this particular installment didn’t quite live up to my expectations, I’ll be in my seat opening weekend for the next.

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