Friday, January 27, 2012

Out of Africa (1985)

This film, adapted from author Isak Denison's autobiographical book of the same title, was an awards hound in the '80s. It won seven Oscars, including Big Daddies Best Picture, and Best Director for the late, great, Sydney Pollack. The film stars Meryl Streep (who was nominated and has an excellent accent) and Robert Redford (who wasn't and doesn't) as two European ex-pats who meet in British East Africa before the First World War and develop an intense attraction despite Streep's Baroness Karen Blixen (Denison's married name) being in a marriage of convenience to a lazy, philandering sot. The romance between Karen and Redford's Denys Finch Hatton is widely lauded as one of the most romantic in cinema history. The AFI thought so, naming the film in its "100 Years . . . 100 Passions" compilation. I for one am looking forward to a certain memorable shampoo scene.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Olympia (Parts 1 & 2) Chat

Tracy:  USA! USA!
Natalie:  Ha! I'm only at the party for the food.
Tracy:  So what did you think of those German fascist Abercrombie and Fitch ads that opened each section?
Natalie:  HA! That's totally what they were! I couldn't figure out what to call them other than porn . . . I have to admit, up front, to watching 80% of this on fast forward. I managed to get through the pseudo-religious trek to the Holy Land with the flame opening and some of the events but good God I can only watch so many people do the same thing over and over.
Tracy:  It was this weird combination of Nazi propaganda--establishing the Reich's place in these great ancient empires--and just a straight-up film strip about what happened at the 1936 Olympics. And disturbingly, the Nazi part was the only part that I thought at all interesting in terms of film. Disgusting? Absolutely. But at least it showed an artistic point of view. I liked the diving section, but other than that, it just seems to be the camera angles. And I'm good with the extreme close-up, thanks.
Natalie:  Yeah, I don't quite understand why we needed to see ALL of the 1938 Olympics. And, that's a point the book is wrong about. It's listed in the book as only 118 minutes but this thing is close to four hours if you get the complete version with two discs as the book seems to imply we should. I needed more of an argument. So, give me more Nazi propaganda. At least that would have been something to pay attention to.
Tracy:  Freaking book. As is, I could only think about how the spectre of WW2 is all over this thing, and how a lot of these athletes probably met, and shot at and killed, each other in just a few years. But that's all me--obviously the movie isn't doing that. It was satisfying to watch non-Aryan Jesse Owens give a hearty fuck-you-and-your-"superior race"-bullshit right in Hitler's front yard, but again, not the movie's doing.
Also, all the athletes looked really old. And not that athletic.
Natalie:  Agreed on all points. I just don't see the point. I don't know why we need to watch it. I don't know why it's so long. I don't watch all of the contemporary Olympics and don't want to watch all of a retro-Olympics. The only reason I can see for this to exist is if you're having some sort of Olympic themed party with a Nazi-twinge and you need something quiet to play for hours in the background.
Tracy:  Exactly! And if you're having such a party, you really should reconsider your lifestyle choices. So I'm guessing the book says Riefenstahl and camera angles.
Natalie:  HA! What would you serve at such a party . . . different conversation, I suppose :)
The book says, Olympia is “a hymn of praise to athletic prowess and to the poetry of the human body in motion” while recognizing that the film is “a piece of propaganda.” But the book seems to play apologist for that fact, stating “Sponsored by Hitler, the film does contain some sequences that seem to support the notion of ‘Aryan’ superiority” but undercutting it with “the filmmaker did receive a gold medal for her efforts from the Olympic Committee in 1948, long after Hitler’s dream of a 1,00-year Reich had disintegrated.” Otherwise, the book is in awe of the effort (“Huge preparation was necessary. Steel camera towers were constructed in the stadium, platforms built for tracking shots, and Germany scoured for the best talent”) and the sheer amount of footage edited (“Nearly 250 hours” edited into a “masterfully paced [film], with exquisite matched cuts and just enough variation in repetitive events . . . to sustain visual interest”). The book declares this film “the most moving cinematic record of human sport and physical competition ever produced.”
So, basically, the Nazis set up what is now considered standard ways of filming sports.
Were you moved?
Tracy:  And the invitations! I was the opposite of moved. I watched it all because I like the Olympics and it was a nice way to turn my brain off, but I was not stirred by the grandeur of global competition. When I thought at all, it was things like, "huh, they don't have starting blocks," and "huh, they used to do the gymnastics outside." The most riled up I got was when I realized that we boycotted Moscow in '80 BUT WE TOTALLY WENT TO BERLIN IN '36. Nice.
And also, Hitler claps like a girl.
Natalie:  Now I kind of want to have that party. But ironically. Right, Moscow. Sigh. And, getting a medal from the IOC doesn't exactly mean that you're good or that the film is excellent or worth watching or manages to exceed its Nazi birth--the IOC makes mistakes (cough Romney cough CHINA cough). HA HA HA! Hitler did clap like a girl!
Tracy:  Hee. No kidding. The IOC is not our moral arbiter. So not having ever seen Triumph of the Will, I say make that your token Riefenstahl propaganda movie and give Olympia the heave-ho.
Natalie:  Agreed. I've seen part of Triumph but I think we only need one Riefenstahl (if any--aren't we a little heavy on the Nazis lately? Just luck of random draw I guess).
Tracy:  Yes. But we're onto a run of fun movies coming up! And Nazi free, as I recall!
Natalie:  Yay!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Olympia (1938)

This is a film that makes a lot of cinephiles uncomfortable. On the one hand: Unprecedented camera angles! Tracking shots! Time Magazine's 100 Best Films! On the other: It's totally Nazi propaganda. Director Leni Riefenstahl is a divisive figure but one that must be reckoned with. She was a personal friend of Hitler's and an unreconstructed Nazi while simultaneously breaking ground as a female filmmaker in a time that was even less amenable to women in the industry. Olympia is also the forerunner of the sort of pageantry and pomp that accompany the Olympics to this day. Will we be able to separate the politics from the aesthetics?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Being John Malkovich Chat

We're trying out a schedule for watching, chatting, and posting! I know---you'd totally think two hyper-list-makers would have figured this out earlier.

Tracy:  Malkovich. Malkovich. Malkovich.
Natalie:  Sorry-some strange lady just knocked on the door and then kept me by declaring that this was not 413. Nope. The door you just knocked on pretty much clears that up.
Tracy:  That's bizarre!
Natalie:  Yeah. Anyway--Malkovich.
Tracy:  So I like this movie, but I think my lifelong crush on JM is a large source of my enjoyment. Objectively, I think it's a cool concept flick the concept for which runs out at about minute 75.
Natalie:  I'm not sure I like it as a movie. I definitely like the idea. I like JM and his role. But Cusack and Diaz bug me as does the dialogue about the "big ideas." I don't hate it but I'm definitely in "eh" territory.
Note: Cusack does not bug me normally. Diaz does.
Tracy:  Yes, agreed on Diaz. I guess I like the way they set up the rules of this world (initially) and then just go with it. This is a world where there's a puppeteering rivalry and floor 7.5, and JM and Charlie Sheen are best friends. But then that gets dropped for this extended set piece with Cusack in JM. And though I usually like actors pretending to be other actors, and I think JM did a good job, that wears off fast. I'm thinking it's trying to be a metaphor for cinema, but doesn't quite get there.
Natalie:  Definitely like that they just go for the rules of the world--no one questions the 7.5 floor, just the height of the ceilings but even that not so much. I guess I just needed something else to happen. I'm not sure what though. I agree that it's trying to be a metaphor for cinema. If there's anything Charlie Kaufman likes, it's a meta metaphor. And it also seems a metaphor for our idolization of actors. JM can just be a puppeteer now. He had to "pay his dues" sort of but if a hugely respected actor wants to do something wacko, it's suddenly "art" and cool. Maybe I needed it to be trimmed back a bit in terms of the absurd? I could have done without Diaz bringing all of these animals home, the chimp's psychological problems (and ESPECIALLY that scene where the chimp flashes back and actually has the same name in chimp language?), the bird as an alarm clock (terrifying) . . . it was all just a touch too much for me, I think, and not needed for the narrative.
Tracy:  Which also seems to be a Kaufman problem. He gets this cool idea (let's make a movie about how hard it is to adapt a book into a movie! let's make a movie about how we need to be distanced and mediated by media in order to have authentic emotion!) and then gets so far up his own ass in the last third of the film that it becomes either too precious (BJM) or pretty unwatchable (Adaptation). And that chimp moment is really strange. It seems like he was trying to be all post-human but ended up being insulting to the chimp.
Natalie:  YES! And the end of BJM? Some strangely modified Electra complex?
Tracy:  I don't think he had a clue what to do. He had painted himself into this corner, and then it becomes a weirdo immortality project. I thought that the person would only go into the new consciousness if he got pushed out of JM? But last we saw Cusack, he was on the ground, back in reality? I think the movie was reaching for this sort of polymorphous progressivism about sexuality as well, but that didn't work either. Really, I wanted more puppeteer rivalry, and more with JM playing this sybarite version of himself. And/or a movie about the adventures of Ma-Sheen and Malkatraz. There are lines and moments and ideas that I really dig, but yeah, the narrative is a fail.
Natalie:  The movie really needed to explain how Cusack gets to inhabit the body of his/Diaz's/JM's daughter--and, um, that's a weirdo and problematic version of conception, btw. Ha! Yes--more puppeteer rivalry (second movie in a row with puppets from the list) and more JM. I'd completely forgotten from my last watch that Sheen was in the film--how the times have changed Description: :) So . . . It seems the book is simply enamored of Spike Jonze (trying to be hip and name-dropping Fat Boy Slim and Beastie Boys) and Charlie Kaufman, declaring this “one of the most inventive Hollywood films in recent history.”

Well, ALL Hollywood films are “recent history” really.

But, it continues by praising the “intricate plot” woven around an “outstanding idea” and twittering that “Jonze dazzles at every turn as he tells this smart, subversive, and darkly comic tale.” The cast is praised and the movie is cemented as “Wonderfully hip, utterly marvelous.”
Tracy:  It's sort of sad that the movie's version of what old Charlie Sheen would look like is a lot less frightening than the reality. I don't understand how the movie is subversive at all. What is it subverting? I like it because it's an experimental movie that doesn't totally turn me off, and because I'd really like to have a Malkovich timeline room like Lester, but I think the filming wasn't that inventive (the porthole view to indicate looking through someone else's eyes is pretty obvious) and the writing has some big old problems. Your movie doesn't get to be hip just because the director is hip.
Natalie:  Ha! Poor Charlie Sheen. I don't understand the subversion idea either. I don't wholly dislike it but I wish it were something else. And, yeah, if the movie is a problem, it takes hip points away from the director not the other way around. I'm surprised the book didn't add in that Michael Stipe was a producer to try to add to the hipness.
Tracy:  Hah! Namecheck opportunity missed! So do you think it belongs in the book?
Natalie:  Eh. I won't kick it out of the book because there are MUCH worse movies that are currently taking up valuable real estate and it is inventive to a point but I think I could pretty easily replace it. Your verdict?
Tracy:  Yeah, I think keep it in the book. It's no Eternal Sunshine, but I guess it's representative of what was to come. Plus, Malkatraz!
Natalie:  Sigh. Eternal Sunshine. And, actually, reminding me of that movie changes my mind. I'd kick it out and replace it with ES because ES is NOT in the book which is just a sin.
Tracy:  WHAT???!!!!!
Natalie:  Yeah.
Tracy:  Oh, that's inexcusable. INEXCUSABLE. It's Kaufman, right?
Natalie:  Let me double check but I'm pretty sure
Yes, Kaufman
Tracy:  As you check, I seethe with rage.
That's fucking ridiculous. RIDICULOUS.
Natalie:  That's appropriate.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Being John Malkovich (1999)

After German genocidal dictators and French psychopathic serial killers, I think everyone can agree Nat and I deserve a break. Thank you Hindu floaty thing for Being John Malkovich coming up in the rotation! This movie is a tripped-out fantastical delight. Written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze, it's no surprise that this flick brings the weird. John Cusack (!) plays a puppeteer (!!) who finds a portal that leads to the mind of John Malkovich (!!!!!!). Sure we've got to slog through an appearance by Cameron Diaz, but overall, the movie is a razor-sharp and riotously clever black comedy--at least the Academy thought so; Kaufman's script was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. And "original" it certainly is. As a bonus, BJM features Charlie Sheen as Malkovich's best friend, tossing off some pretty stellar one-liners before he got too weird and violent to be appreciated. It shall be a Happy New Year indeed!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sombre (1998)

Believe us, not the NYT.
Natalie:  So, Sombre [which we have to pronounce like an old Tex-Mex ranch hand instead of like a French speaker].
tracy What's French for really unpleasant and underexposed? 
Natalie Shit.
tracy Hah! And there was so much promise. A serial killer who follows the Tour de France? I'm into that. I like scenery. But the only scenery you get is a home movie of naked French girls. Which makes it sound much better than it is.
Natalie Or, I guess, "merde." Why/how do I know the French word for "shit"? I'd be into that, too. But the film has a huge freshman film 101 project problem of "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOH, I have an idea!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And another idea and another idea and another idea ad infinitum so we're just going to stick them all into one project without actually exploring anything." Ha! I bet there are a LOT of home movies of naked French girls that are better than this film.
tracy I think some films that were taken by a grizzly bear when it tried to eat a camera would be better than this. I HATED it. I hated the look of it, I hated the way it pathologized virginity, I hated the arc of the main character. It's like if they took Darren Aronofsky, surgically removed his talent, and made him shoot a movie blindfolded.
Natalie I'd totally watch a film about a grizzly bear . . .wait did that and it was better. I'm pretty sure the writing of this film went something like this:
Guy 1: Let's make a movie about a serial killer who likes the Tour de France.
Guy 2: Ok, but it's French so it can't be interesting.
Guy 1: Right. So let's make it an underexposed, can't see what the fuck is going on, film.
Guy 2: YES! That's totally brilliant and has never been done before, much less by a French Guy. I know! Let's also make it a thinly veiled Red Riding Hood story.
Guy 1: That's is the best idea ever. But I don't want the wolf--OH My GOD! we HAVE to have him be a puppeteer so he has an ACTUAL wolf costume!! We're so smart!
Guy 1: Anyway--we don't want our serial killer/wolf to be a cannibal so he can't actually eat Red Riding Hood . . . .
Guy 2: But we're French and "sexy" so he can "eat" her instead wink wink wink, because we're clever and think sex and killing people are synonymous, remember what we call a climax right?
Guy 1: Yes! And then Red Riding Hood can go all psycho and totally like LOVE the wolf because he's not expecting that and it will drive him feral. Like a Real fucking wolf!! Wow. This is going to be the best movie ever.
K. I'm done now.
tracy Heehehehe. Exactly. But the sex can't be filmed in a way that's inviting or sensually appealing, because see above. So it has to be the most awkward and nauseating sex scene this side of Pink Flamingos.
If the killer had been a vampire, I think I would have tolerated it. But as is? Get this weak sauce serial killer movie out of my face.
Natalie Ha! You'd think they could come up with better sex scenes at least. And it's such a half-assed film. They don't explain anything. Why/how do any of those women end up in his car? Why/how do the sisters end up staying at his house? Why/how do the sisters go from escaping in the car to being trapped (but not trapped apparently) in his house again? So it's like we have this magic serial killer who can glamour people. Again with the vampires; if the serial killer were Erik Northman and I could see what was happening, maybe.
tracy If the serial killer were Erik Northman and I could see what was happening and the girls weren't in it at all and it was just him competing in the Tour de France, I'd say keep it in. As is, au revoir, craptastic movie.
Natalie HA! That might be the best movie idea ever. So, yeah, buh-bye bad French film that destroyed all hopes that I might like more than one French film on this list. I'll happily trade it for Downfall. This one, by the way, was added in the 2005 edition that we both have in storage so we can't dissect the stupid reasons the editors wanted this one on the list anyway. Downfall is on the list for all of the reasons we discussed in that post.
tracy So it was this vs. Downfall? That ain't even close.
Natalie Yep. And, yeah, not a photo finish at all.
tracy I'm really, really glad it's over, and very, very excited for Being John Malkovich next week!
Natalie Me, too! I don't remember loving BJM but I do remember that I didn't hate it!
tracy At this point, that's a win.
Natalie And we'll be able to see what's going on.