Archive for February, 2008

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Spiritual Exercises: Olivier Smolders

February 29, 2008

This set of 10 short experimental films is now available on DVD.  I had previously not seen any of Olivier Smolders’ works, but I am intrigued by experimental film making as an art form.  My only disappointment is that most avant-guarde works in film is they tend to focus mainly on female nudity and death.  It gets tedious after a while.  One of the more interesting short films I’ve seen is a ball rolling through a workshop, much in the same way marbles went through the old board game “Mousetrap”.  The camera was in continual motion, as well as the ball, and it was cleverly done and fun to watch.  If we could get more experimental films about ducks, pirates and cardboard boxes, I’m sure they’d get more of an audience.

Starting with “Adoration”, this pretty much encapsulates the whole female nudity and death theme he’s got going on with this collection.  It features a man and a woman, woman reads poems, man shoot woman, man eats little bits of woman, man cuts off woman’s arm and leg, man stabs self.  The end.  I was not particularly moved, either intrigued or disgusted, because I’ve already seen it all before countless times.  The lack of narration and soundtrack make it seem lacking, as if the director didn’t realize he could use sound for dramatic effect.  It’s like as if a cook was baking cakes and left out all the eggs.

“Mort a Vignole” was a bit more interesting, and to me, more touching and human than the rest of the collection.  He describes how his child came out stillborn, and he wanted to photograph her, but they took her away for an autopsy.  He imagines that having captured her in photos would have given her a bit of life where she had none, a bit of immortality after death.  I found it very sad but yet beautiful.  Being a parent can change how you look at things in many ways, and I think prior to having my son I would not have appreciated this segment.

“L’Amateur” was an interesting progression of the female nude form.  Not how the women progress, but how the director progresses at the representation.  The addition of great contrast, props, movement, all begin to capture more and more beauty as the film goes on.  However as far as being engaging and moving, it didn’t much go beyond the beauty.  Calling out for his lost love like Lenore did not sway me at all.

The only other short that really fascinated me was  “Pensees et Visions D’une Tête Coupée”, which I believe is translated “Thoughts and Visions of a Severed Head”.  It details the work of Belgian artist Antoine Wiertz.  Like Smolders, he is drawn to the morbid.  His descriptions on seeing and talking to a severed head were very disturbing to me, more because of my fear of decapitation than anything else.  I would be curious to see how “normal” people would react to the work.

I found the use of midgets in this segment to be gratuitous and exploitative, as if no director can do a “weird” movie without throwing in at least one midget.  Then again, it may have simply been a perspective tool to make the paintings look bigger and grander than they already were.

Overall I felt the short film was very informative and respectful to Wiertz’s work, despite  narrations that described contemporary reactions to the paintings.  If more painters could have short films such as this dedicated to them, maybe more people would have time to learn about fine art from centuries past.

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Beowulf (2007)

February 29, 2008

I wanted to like this movie.  I wish Neil Gaiman success, but he just can’t get a screenplay or story turned into a good movie.  Poor guy.  As for Roger Avary, normally I love his dialog but after “There have been many a brave soldier come to taste my husband’s mead” I didn’t know whether to grimace or laugh.

I suppose most of the movie’s downfall comes from Mr. Robert CGI Zemeckis.   He should have learned from the criticism of “The Polar Express” that whatever tech crew he’s got working for him, they need more practice.  This was no “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”.  Throughout the movie the poor CGI was distracting, from the poor eye contact to the way people’s jaws didn’t move when they talked.  He’s got a long way to go before he can make his crew churn out realistic looking characters in CGI, and in the meantime he’s making big-budget films that will have no staying power and lose millions.  I can’t understand when he had so many excellent live-action films behind him, and he’s obviously good at that sort of thing, why he keeps tarnishing his reputation by sticking with something that’s not working for him.  I can’t imagine how he keeps getting financing.  I hear “A Christmas Carol” is going to be CGI as well, how did that ever get greenlit?

Enough bitching about Zemeckis.  The story was good, I liked the changes made from the original tale, linking everything together.  The acting was stiff but only thanks to motion capture.  Guess they didn’t put enough stickers on people.  And the stiletto heels on Grendel’s mother ruined what little respect I had for the movie.  By the time it was over, I was glad.   Sorry Neil, maybe next time.

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Tortilla Soup (2001)

February 26, 2008

This movie popped up when I searched for other food movies, so otherwise I didn’t know much about it.  However, as soon as I began watching it, I thought it was exactly like another movie I had seen, “Eat Drink Man Woman”.  Ordinarily I would have just popped it out of the Playstation and sent it right back to Netflix, because basically it was the exact same movie scene for scene, with English and Spanish instead of Chinese.  The only reason I watched it was because this time I got to see it with Mexican food being made instead of Chinese.

Overall, I thought this version was more comical and lighthearted, except for the part where the youngest daughter goes apeshit on poor Andy’s apartment.  I was waiting for him to tell her to GTFO but unfortunately it went into some stupid introspective moment for Maribel.

Having already seen “Eat Drink Man Woman”, I wasn’t at all surprised by the little twists and turns they throw in, especially at the end.  I was just as displeased with the ending of this one as with the ending from the original.  Why, during the whole movie, do Martin and Yolanda never share a single tender scene together?  Just to surprise the audience?  It’s a cheap trick, almost as cheap as “It was all a dream!”.

On a side note, when I saw Raquel Welch on the cast I thought “Why isn’t she in more movies?”.  Well I guess it’s because she got fat.  I mean “curvy”.  Whatever.  Honestly, if your entire career is based around your sexy body, you might as well stay in shape.  Or you could go the Audrey Hepburn route and just retire from movies while you’re still beautiful and devote your life to trying to make the world a better place.  I can imagine Angelina Jolie going this route…

On a side note, I started getting Gourmet magazine yesterday.  I found a few recipes I’d like to try, but honestly I wouldn’t be able to get half the ingredients most of those recipes call for.   Hell, I can’t even get a decent cut of vegetarian-fed meat around here.  But seeing as how I messed up last night’s cod, no one would probably notice if I used dried mint instead of fresh mint.  The only thing I’ve ever been good at when it comes to cooking is doing a recipe until it’s perfect, and then never straying from that.  But if they ever had me on Iron Chef where I needed to do something for the first time, well, things would not go very well.

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Blood Diamond (2006)

February 22, 2008

Having just watched “Children of Men”, I could help but think that if the cinematography had been transferred over to “Blood Diamond”, it would have made “Blood Diamond” a lot more emotionally compelling. I found the story actually interesting, but the style and acting was nothing special. I wish Edward Zwick would have tried a bit harder, but it seems he has a history of turning amazing stories into mediocre movies.

Leonardo DiCaprio, though a great actor, doesn’t seem to have a talent for accents. I admit I don’t have a lot of experience with Rhodesian accents, however at first I thought it was some kind of Australian accent. And I usually get caught up in sad drawn-out death scenes, but I kept thinking to myself “When’s a soldier gonna pop up over a rock and shoot him in the face?” I guess I just wasn’t emotionally into it. I’m not totally cold-hearted though, I cried when Leo died in “Titanic” and “Romeo + Juliet”. But I just wasn’t touched as much by his death scene in “Blood Diamond”.

Lacking as it was on some emotional level, it still did get it’s point across. To be honest I don’t think I’ve ever purchased diamonds in the past, but I certainly won’t in the future. Good thing being moral saves me money!

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The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

February 22, 2008

This film was interesting, but being a gamer I would say it takes a certain kind of person to like it.  Even so, by about an hour in I was thinking this film must have been mislabeled, because it felt twice as long as advertised.  I think there was something about the editing and the pacing of the film that was fundamentally flawed, and the feeling that the director kept adding pieces as they went along.

The basis of the film was the rivalry between Steve and Billy, and it was obvious which of the two was the “good” guy and which was the “bad” guy.  Kinda made me wonder if Tom Cruise’s character in Magnolia was based on Billy.

I have to say though, it didn’t exactly inspire me to go out an win my own records.  After all the struggle poor Steve went through, looks like more of a pain in the ass than it’s worth.  And it’s weird, Steve seemed like the only “normal” person in the film, not a complete nerd or asshole.

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Babette’s Feast (1987)

February 15, 2008

I love food films.  They should have a special name for this genre, like instead of Drama or Action or Sci-Fi they could have Foodie.

Most Foodie films are set up as love stories.  This one, however, was quite different.  In an era and place of modesty and virtue, the 2 young ladies in the film never really find love.  Are they cold-hearted bitches?   Nah, I just think they valued other things over the idea of getting married and having kids.  Nothing wrong with that.  They lived their lives as how they could be happy and content with.

Most of the drama is pretty dry, so I think most movie-goers would get bored before the end.  But the end was what I was waiting for, so I sat it out.  And wow, what a feast!  The only thing that really shocked me was the part where the general nibbled off a bit of the quail’s head and sucked out its brain.  Having raised quail as a child, I am quite fond of the little birds.  But I think even if it had been a bird I wasn’t so fond of, the scene was horrifying for me.  I got over it quickly enough though so I still enjoyed it.

It was rather odd the way the older actresses did not resemble their younger counterparts, and in fact the Young Martina looked more like Old Phillipa.  It’s very distracting, and they really could have done better there.

I wish I could cook for someone who didn’t eat his food so fast.

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Across the Universe (2007)

February 10, 2008

Somehow I got this idea that the film was made as an example of how Beatles’s music transcends the universe.  The movie itself never mentions the Beatles, so it’s made in a world where the Beatles never existed.  However, the music they made must have been intrinsic to the era, so that it pervades our every being.  At least, that’s what I though the director was trying to say.

I liked Julie Taymor’s style in Titus.  We actually own it, though I can’t say I’ve watched it more than once or twice.  Coming from a stage background, I see she’s trying to bring to life all the things she couldn’t pull off on stage- trippy special effects, montages, brilliant colors and the world come to life.  But that’s also her downfall.  She focused so much on the middle acid part, she totally lost track of where her story was going.  She directed her actors as if the world were some sort of stage musical, but when you’re making a movie that’s coming out on Blu Ray, where you can see down to an actor’s nose pores, there’s no reason for them to act the way they would on stage.  It just looked disgustingly contrived, every motion and emotion.

The singing was well done, but it seemed like the plot bent itself to meet the songs to the breaking point.  So much about a well-written screenplay was lost when the director tried to integrate so many different Beatles songs.  The JoJo and Prudence intro scenes were especially distracting from the plot, considering they were such minor characters.

And for the last time, can we PLEASE have a 60’s era movie that doesn’t include black and white montages from television footage?