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Film review quarterly: 2013 Q1

1 Apr

This is the new format for movie reviews. I enjoy writing these. As always there are spoilers and I make no apologies for them.

This was similar in a lot of ways to last year’s A Late Quartet. You might notice they both even have the word quartet in their names. Both are about the sometimes complex relationships between a group of musicians who have a very long history performing together. This one’s not nearly as good. It’s set in an old age home for musicians, which I hope is a real thing. Seems like it would be the coolest of all retirement communities. One of the characters in this was an aging opera singer who is a colorful and fun pervert. Always making lewd comments to the female staff etc. This is played for laughs and the females in question seem to like him. I don’t get this. At all. At what age do you stop being a creep and start being lovable? 60? 70? I don’t know. I found that part of things very distasteful.

Side Effects
I was pretty surprised by this one. I went in knowing very little about it. I try not to know much about movies I want to see. I guess I should have expected something like this from Steven Soderbergh. The way he took the story and veered all over the place while staying in control is something that not many directors could do. As the murder was happening, I was thinking, “Oh she’s fake sleepwalking so she can kill her husband.” Normally that would make the whole rest of the movie boring. Mr. Soderbergh made me think, five minutes later, “Oh that was a stupid thing to think” and my original fake sleepwalking thought was completely out of my head until much later on in the movie. Even though I turned out to be right about said fake sleepwalking. I really admire any filmmaker who can take the audience on a ride like that.

I also thought Rooney Mara was good. I didn’t see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo so this was the first time I saw her in a movie. Looking forward to more from her. Jude Law was also involved. I like him. Whenever he’s in a movie I always think of the time Chris Rock made a joke about him at the Oscars and then Sean Penn got indignant about it when he was presenting an award. Misguided and unchecked self-righteousness is enjoyable sometimes.

This was a German movie about a group of siblings on the run in Germany after their Nazi parents are arrested in the aftermath of World War Two. Very intense. There wasn’t anything groundbreaking here, and the “destitute children traveling through a war zone” thing seems like a big idea, but there isn’t really anything for them to do. I don’t know if that premise is enough to sustain a movie. There were a lot of things to like. A few really good visuals, for which I am a sucker. The thing with the little ceramic deer was a terrific little detail. Its reappearance at the end was unexpected and striking in all the best ways. And some good acting performances, especially from Saskia Rosendahl as the eponymous Lore. Two things. One, I didn’t know going in that the main character was named Lore (pronounced, of course, with two syllables in German). I thought the title was the one-syllable English word lore, as in folklore. The girl at the box office probably thought I was a goddamn moron when I asked for a ticket. Two, I’ve never heard of a German woman named Saskia. I always thought it was a Dutch name. My sister has a friend named Saskia. Rembrandt’s wife is the most famous Saskia. Both of them Dutch, naturally. Those fucking Germans are always trying to one-up us.

Like Someone in Love
Abbas Kiarostami seems like a pretty big name among foreign film fans. I’ve only seen two of his other movies. I liked Certified Copy, which I think most people point to as his best. Or maybe that’s just the one most people have seen. I had a lot of problems with Taste of Cherry, which I won’t go into here. So I was curious about this going in, but I wasn’t expecting anything spectacular. I’ll go right to the ending. I thought it was great. A totally unexpected way to end things. I was so startled I don’t remember it exactly. Was it a brick through the window? Something bigger? Whatever it was it made my heart skip a beat. Mr. Kiarostami is pretty obviously an expert at composing his shots and everything seemed very meticulous. All the car interiors were so compelling. Like Taste of Cherry but good. Plus who could dislike a movie that revolves around a beautiful old Volvo?

Spring Breakers
I loved this movie.

There should be an Oscar for movie posters so this could win

There should be an Oscar for movie posters so this could win

I had been looking forward to Spring Breakers for like a year. I first heard about it because Heather Morris has a bit part in it. Ms. Morris, of course, plays the unparalleled Brittany on Glee. I believe I saw it on her imdb page or something and looked it up. There’s a whole subculture of vapid news outlets reporting on Hollywood, and they all had little blurbs about this soon-to-be-filmed movie. Former Disney stars as girls who rob a convenience store to go on spring break. These blurbs all perfunctorily noted that the writer and director of the movie was Harmony Korine. This was by far the biggest piece of news about the movie, but I don’t think anyone writing for a website trafficking in news stories about Vanessa Hudgens knows who Mr. Korine is. I knew who he was and I got excited. I also got excited to read the eventual reactions of moviegoers who weren’t aware of Mr. Korine’s other movies. (That did not disappoint, by the way. You might still be able to find bewildered reactions to the movie from teenagers on Twitter.)

Well what did you expect young lady

Well what did you expect young lady

A lot of people have written a lot of stuff about Spring Breakers. Some of it confuses me. There’s this debate where either the movie is a) an insightful deconstruction of youth culture and a brilliant piece of art, or b) total exploitative trash. Most film critics seem to think those are the only two options and judge it by its success at achieving (a). I think that’s lazy. Another lazy thing: the most common adjective used to describe the movie is “shocking”. I didn’t think it was shocking at all. Have no film critics ever seen a Girls Gone Wild video? The whole thing was a bit more tame than I was expecting, frankly.

Mr. Korine has said that he thinks of the movie as a “pop poem”, which is incredibly pretentious and a pretty apt description. I think the poem v. prose concept can be a useful way to look at movies. There are a lot of movies that don’t really work as narrative, and I think a lot of people criticize them or don’t understand them because of it. The experience of reading a poem is much more visceral and immediate than reading prose. That’s the effect I took away from Spring Breakers. The costumes, lighting, set pieces, etc. all felt designed to have an immediate visual/emotional impact. I think that’s the standard to use when judging the movie. As a narrative, I don’t think it works at all. It’s not very believable and there isn’t any effort to create the things that make an audience invest in characters. But to be honest that doesn’t bother me. I dislike the idea that the only worthwhile purpose of a movie is to tell a linear story with a protagonist and obstacles and a climax etc. Everything here seemed purposeful. Maybe in time it’ll all seem self-indulgent and overwrought but right now I think all the pieces fit together.

Mr. Korine showed a few moments of technical excellence. The tracking shot of the robbery from the car was an A plus. I also thought the way he framed the pool threesome was really creative. He kept the camera right at the water line and it seemed to me like he was baiting the audience by moving the camera above and below the water to hint at but not show anything especially titillating. Maybe I’m reading way too much into that but I was struck by it. I don’t normally notice the camera work in sex scenes.

I was impressed with the actors. I didn’t quite know what to expect but I thought the three famous Hot Young Actresses were all up to the task. The fourth was Rachel Korine, who happens to be married to the director. No one seems to be commenting about that. She wasn’t bad or anything. It’s almost unfair to her to have her name in the credits, since it makes everyone assume going in that she’s only in the movie via nepotism. Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson are the two ringleaders, and I’ll be honest, I couldn’t tell them apart through the whole movie. It didn’t help that I didn’t know what either of them looked like beforehand and they had more or less the same hair and costumes for the whole movie. But it didn’t matter that I saw them as essentially one character. It didn’t affect my understanding of things at all. I kind of think that undifferentiability was the intent–part of the whole “pop poem” thing. I didn’t realize Selena Gomez would disappear halfway through, that was too bad. She’s a better actor than I would have guessed.

She seems like a sharp kid


I was intrigued by this movie’s excellent trailer. I wasn’t familiar with Chan-wook Park, but he’s apparently very highly regarded. I was really impressed with Stoker. Maybe this is too superficial, but it reminded me of The Master in some ways. The attention to visual detail and the precision of everything. There were so many memorable little images/shots/scenes. India on the bed surrounded by shoeboxes, the envelopes scattering on the stairs, the opening shot in the field, the ice cream packaging. I could go on. And the thing with the egg, Jesus. That was incredible. Mr. Park doesn’t seem to speak much/any English, so I wonder if that contributed to the feel of things. That is, was he was more focused on sets/cinematography/visible emotions from actors since he couldn’t really delve into the world of line readings and such? Or maybe I’m wrong and he’d just rather speak Korean in interviews. Who knows. Anthony Lane, who I highly respect, thought the whole thing was just a showoffy Hitchcock pastiche. I didn’t get that sense at all. It certainly has that Hitchcock feeling of dread and suspense that’s since gone missing from Hollywood movies, but I didn’t get the feeling that there was anything so direct. Although I should note that for all the Hitchcock movies I’ve seen, I probably have 10% of the knowledge Mr. Lane does, so maybe he’s right.

Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska were both good. I’ve always liked Nicole Kidman. I especially like how she does interesting and small movies now. Good for her. Rabbit Hole and Margot at the Wedding are two recent performances of hers that I enjoyed. I thought Ms. Wasikowska did a good job with conveying emotion and building an audience connection through a very flat character. Not flat like underwritten or something, but flat in that the character was designed to be almost affectless on the surface. I think that would be hard for an actor. I don’t think I’ve seen much else of Matthew Goode’s, but he was perfect. Playing creepy without being over the top or too timid is hard. It’s a pretty small sweet spot and I thought he nailed it.

A couple bonus notes: Harmony Korine of newfound Spring Breakers fame has a cameo. I wonder how that happened. Also, the screenplay was written by one of the stars of the TV show Prison Break. That was unexpected.

Stoker is the best movie of the year so far.

2013: The year in film

17 Jan

I’m not a person who spends his time reading movie news and I rarely know anything about upcoming movies. Most of my info comes from seeing trailers at the theater. I’d almost say that I try to avoid such news. I won’t be reading anything about Sundance, I never read the festival recaps from various critics, etc. I guess I would just prefer to wait until movies are soon-to-be-released before I spend my time getting excited for them. That being said, here are three movies that I know about and am looking forward to this year.

Spring Breakers
What if I told you that the star of this movie was Selena Gomez and the co-stars are other Disneyish hot young actress types. What kind of movie do you think this would be? The plot is that a group of girls rob a restaurant to pay for their spring break trip, does that change your impression? Probably not much. What if I told you that the movie was written and directed by Harmony Korine? Change your mind? Do you not know who Mr. Korine is? He’s the creative mind behind such movies as Kids and Gummo. I can’t wait to see what this movie is all about. It also features James Franco playing a character based on Riff Raff. I really can’t wait. One other thing I can’t wait for: the reaction of Selena Gomez fans to this movie.

I don’t think the host of this vapid Hollywood news YouTube channel is ready for this movie

If you’ve never seen a Riff Raff video before you’re in for a treat

Here’s Harmony Korine being a weirdo on Letterman many years ago

The Great Gatsby

I saw the trailer for this recently. Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby looks like it’ll be pretty similar to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.* It even stars Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s even wearing the famous pink Gatsby suit. And it’s in 3D. I honestly don’t think this movie will be all that good, but it’ll definitely be interesting. This is a hard book to film. There was a version in the 70s with Robert Redford as Gatsby. I don’t think very many people have seen it. I’ve certainly never heard mention of it anywhere. I can’t think of an argument why this one will be better than that one from a storytelling standpoint, although I think Mr. Luhrmann’s visual interpretation of things will hold my interest if nothing else.

*Using a + instead of the word and in your title is obnoxious

The Canyons

I remember hearing rumblings about this one last year. Then I saw this tweet from Lena Dunham and my interest was reignited. Read the whole New York Times Magazine article. Fascinating stuff.

Screenwriter and increasingly unhinged Twitter personality Bret Easton Ellis apparently hates how the movie turned out