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My Week(s) in Movies (1/30 — 2/12)

February 13, 2011

This one will actually encompass the last two weeks — I didn’t have time to watch a lot of movies or write the post last week, so this week’s post is combined.

SITA SINGS THE BLUES — an interesting and often hilarious animated exploration of the Hindu Ramayana, from the perspective of Rama’s wife Sita. Apparently animated entirely by the director herself, it jumps between multiple styles of animation and storytelling, from animated vignettes set to classical blues recordings (hence the title), to more traditional and straightforward dramatizations, to sequences narrated by shadow-puppets who often interrupt or correct each other. The latter bits were my favorite part, with a very natural, halting-but-charming flow reminiscent of classic Aardman animations like Creature Comforts and War Story. The three or four different styles of story tend to cover the same ground over and over, but the stylization is interesting enough that it doesn’t become tedious.

What do become a little tedious are the barely-related autobiographical vignettes — also in their own distinctive style — telling the story of the director’s abrupt divorce from her husband (he moves to India, loses interest in her, and dumps her). It eventually leads her to an appreciation of the Ramayana, which led her to make the film we’re watching. It’s a weird meta aspect that doesn’t really fit with the rest of the story. I get that it helped her, but it’s not helping me appreciate the work as a whole. But overall it’s short and sweet and there’s some great music and tremendous animation work.

Word of advice if you check it out: there’s an intermission halfway through with a two-minute countdown. It really is an intermission. There’s no punchline and no real gags, besides having characters walk back and forth across the screen. You can safely skip past it, or use it as a legitimate intermission for a potty or snack break.

STRANGE DAYS — this one’s been on the Down in Front roster for a while, certainly since we did director Kathryn Bigelow’s latest, the Oscar-winning HURT LOCKER. Finally got around to watching it and I gotta say, I loved it. Really well made, lots of interesting stuff going on and I feel like it explores its world and its premise really thoroughly. It’s sci-fi without shoving its sci-fi down your throat too forcefully, and it uses sci-fi for exactly what it’s best at — exploring the fears and tensions of the day and extrapolating them forward. It’s really fascinating to see a vision of 2000 from a perspective where the Rodney King riots were fresh in Los Angeles’ psyche and hints of Y2K were only just starting to surface. It’s a little on the long side at 2.5 hours, but you don’t feel the length in my opinion.

QUIZ SHOW — Only after I started watching this did I discover I’d gotten myself on a minor Ralph Fiennes kick. My first exposure to him — or the first time I took notice of him, I guess — was when he stepped into the role of Lord Voldemort in the HARRY POTTER series. So it’s interesting to go back and watch earlier roles, especially ones like this where he’s playing the charming and conflicted heartthrob. Credibly, I might add.

He’s very good in this — in fact, everyone is. I love watching Hank Azaria in serious roles. I know how funny and silly he can be, it’s really quite something to watch him play it straight (if sleazy). The plot kept moving and the cat-and-mouse investigation was very engaging. Dick Goodwin’s heavy Bostonian accent got a little grating but that might just be how Bostonian accents are.

What really astounds me, though, is that this really happened. That the matter of dishonesty on a game show was such a fucking thing, to the point that a Congressional hearing was convened to look into it. Seriously, what the fuck? Why?

Azaria’s character makes the point at the end that they’re not providing a public service or utilizing public funds — and for all that he’s the corporate sleaze, he’s right. I guess it was a different time or whatever, but it’s just baffling to me. Meanwhile, here in the 21st century, everyone just accepts that “reality” TV is a load of shit. You don’t see Congressional censures on Jersey Shore (much as we might wish for one) for defrauding the audience, or LOST for failing to have a solid exit plan. And don’t even get me started on FOX News.

EVERYTHING STRANGE AND NEW — I signed up with Film Independent last year. They have their own awards, the Spirit Awards, and as a member I’m technically eligible for screener copies of nominated films. I say technically because this is the only screener I received, in nomination for the category of “Best First Feature.”

Imagine the stereotypical Sundance indie film. Odds are you pictured something very much like this one. A good 80% of it is B-roll of city streets or trees, with the protagonist (such as he is) narrating little vignettes of backstory over it. 5% is said protagonist walking down the sidewalk while the camera pans with him while a sort of chaotic noise trying to be an Irish jig (credited as “Monotone Life”) plays in the background. 4% is the protagonist staring off into space, also often amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes. 1% is other characters staring off into space. The last 10% is an actual movie, with characters doing stuff — usually sitting down and talking about relationships. There’s one scene of gay experimentation and towards the end a brutal murder-suicide happens offscreen and we hear about it secondhand. This is so quintessentially the pretentious indie first film I almost want to assume it’s a satire. But if it is, I missed the punchline. Meh.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL* — I’ve seen a lot of things on the internet I’m not proud of, just because they were there and only a click away. HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL is one of them.

Much like EVERYTHING STRANGE AND NEW is the quintessential quirky Sundance indie, HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL is every inch exactly what you’d think a made-for-Disney Channel musical would be. It’s kind of amazing how perfectly sanitized it is in every aspect, designed so it could not possibly offend anyone for any reason. I’m tempted to call that an art in itself. But as a result, it’s also totally forgettable.

I’m not above admitting that I enjoy some mainstream pop music[1], so I thought maybe, at the very least, there might be a catchy tune or two in there that I could put on my iPod. Nothin. I couldn’t remember anything about this film with a gun to my head, aside from what I could reasonably guess based on a generic understanding of Disney Channel content.

If down the line I begin reporting a ninety minute period of missing time, remind me that I wasn’t abducted by aliens, I was watching HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL.

JACKIE BROWN — The only Tarantino movie I hadn’t previously seen (excluding TRUE ROMANCE), I’ve been hearing for over a decade how this was Tarantino’s weakest film, doesn’t even feel like a Tarantino film, drags, whatever. But good goddamn, I loved this movie. It is a little long — he loves his get-it-in-one takes and the performances take their time — but I don’t think it ruins the movie.

I can see how in the context of its time, as his follow up to PULP FICTION, this movie disappoints because it insists on putting substance over style and telling a straightforward story. Much like people had trouble accepting Jim Carrey as a serious actor for a while, it seems to me that people had trouble dealing with a Tarantino who set aside his idiosyncrasies (not entirely — it is still most definitely a Tarantino movie) and just made a movie like normal people do.

That makes me kind of sad, to think that what should have been Tarantino’s transition into more mature filmmaking produced such a backlash that he regressed to his less mature, all-homage-all-the-time, style-over-substance approach, and will probably stay there permanently because that’s what’s been working. Don’t get me wrong, KILL BILL VOL. 1 is one of my favorite films, but I wish he’d make another JACKIE BROWN.

INFERNO: THE MAKING OF THE EXPENDABLES — With respect and admiration, let me say that Sylvester Stallone is a crazyperson. It’s shocking to me how seriously the dude takes action films in general, and this one in particular. I respect it, I wish more people had that attitude, but it’s really just kind of jaw-dropping how completely he throws himself into what he’s doing.

I think he might take it a little too seriously in terms of the movie having a sense of humor about itself — although there are moments of levity, they feel forced, and the drama skirts dangerously into melodrama. And you see here maybe why that is: because Sly wants to make the best and most heartfelt movie possible and he maybe just winds up overshooting a bit. But he’s also basically making it up as he goes, which makes it kind of amazing that it turned out as well as it did. Very interesting viewing; was on Netflix Instant for a while but now it isn’t. It’s on the Blu-Ray with the movie itself.

EDIT: One extra note, I made the assumption in watching and reviewing the film that Schwarzenegger (I, perhaps sadly, did not have to look that spelling up) and Willis were never in the same room together, but shot separately and brought into the scene through the magic of editing, because you never see them in a two-shot together — although you see two-shots of Sly/Ahnuld and Sly/Bruce — and in fact most of the scene plays out in uncomfortably close individual close-ups.

But they were all there together for the scene, as the BTS shows, so why it was shot/edited in such an awkward way when they had the opportunity to do it with more normal coverage is beyond me. Maybe there were some kind of ego politics about sharing the screen and yadda yadda, but the BTS doesn’t go into it.


    *Available on Netflix Instant

    1. Although I’ve been out of the loop for a while; what I think of as “pop” is stuff like Spice Girls, boy bands, and Britney Spears up to Toxic. That’s probably considered “classic pop” by now. Or playing on the goddamn oldies stations.
One Comment
  1. Michael W. permalink

    Jackie Brown is my fave of Tarantino’s. So nuanced. I feel he will make another film like it as he matures as a filmmaker.

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