Trois Couleurs: Bleu: Ba da be &c.

[Screenshot]I finally finished the trilogy, and I’m left wondering if I lack the part of my brain in which one appreciates such things.I responded aesthetically, but I wasn’t seeing much happening. To my eyes, Bleu suffers from a flaw akin to one in 2001: Emotional isolation is a good starting point for a story, but setting up that isolation makes for a really boring story. I understood more or less what was being gotten at, with the impossibility of isolation and the ultimate nsatisfactoriness of the attempt, but it just didn’t feel cinematic to me. Which is a shame, because cinematographically, Bleu is, like the other elements of the trilogy, well-crafted, with skilled camerawork and setting and, as noted in my commentary on Rouge, ample shading and scenery evocative of the color. I just needed a greater sense of involvement, I think: The film drops us more-or-less in the middle, where we watch a character of whom we know nothing do very little for a long time. If we knew Julie before her withdrawl, I think I’d respond a lot more empathically, but as it stands, her character is just too much of a cipher for too long, and too inert for her mystery to be a compelling one.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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Invader Zim episodes 1-5: Manic Americana

[Screenshot]Observant readers have no doubt noticed that I watch a fair bit of Japanese animation. This isn’t a Japan fetish; I like good animation, and the Japanese are doing most of the interesting stuff nowadays, so they’re kind of the only game in town. But I remember recommendations I’ve gotten from other sources too, and Invader Zim was well-loved by a lot of the comic-book freaks in my life. My main personal knowledge of it before was a sensational mural (probably vanished in some-or-other renovation) in the MIT coffee-house. So I was not exactly intimately familiar with Zim, but I knew it was suppsoed to be good. I was not disappointed: it’s authentically fresh and funny and I enjoyed it. Mostly the appeal is in the dialogue, which is delightfully off-kilter, with lines like: “Have you the brain worms?” and “There’s a pigeon on your head. You have headpigeons.” It’s better in context, really, and snappily delivered. The characters and voices are well-thought-out: I particularly like Gaz, and even more so like that she’s used but lightly. Too much of her would get annoying, but a smattering is brilliant. And, well, the characterization and voice acting are awesome. For the show’s other artistic merits: well, the art doesn’t exactly do it for me, as it’s a bit too angular. I realize stylized is in now, but some styles just distract me. YMMV on this point, of course. As for plot, well, it’s sketches, basically, without too much effort devoted to inter-episode continuity. That’s fine for its brand of broad comedy, but one of the reasons I watch less American animation these days is precisely the lack of plots whcih last longer than 15 minutes. Again, personal preference there. All in all, I find Invader Zim to be terrific wacky fun, but damned if I could say why.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Rain Man: Austistic defection agency

[Screenshot]Man, I’m just going to use that Aarseth line over and over until it ceases to be even remotely funny.

Longtime readers have surely noted that I miss a lot of culturally significant cinema. Rain Man definitely qualifies; Dustin Hoffman one of the most memorable (and spoofable) performances in cinema history. Also, it seems to have marked a turning poing in popular perception of insanity: traditionally people with serious mental disorders were portrayed as gibbering loons, usually murderous, basically Reefer Madness without the reefer. Rain Man seems to have been one of the earliest films to look at mental disorders in a sympathetic and vaguely factual light. No, Dustin Hoffman’s performance isn’t a clinically perfect presentation of autism, but it’s a pretty good pop-culture first-order approximation, and it seems like people with disorders have been portrayed more convincingly, or at least interestingly, since then: Rain Man brought us extreme autism, and more functional autism appeared in The Strange Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (along with a smattering of other disorders) is brought to our homes by Monk, and I dunno what disorder Vincent D’Onofrio’s pretending to have in Law & Order: CI, but he’s definitely got some very mild disorder on the obsessive end of things.

What intrigues me is that modern audiences are far more interested in methodical mental disorders then in the chaotic madmen of bygone eras. Maybe we’re starting to actually care about how accurate portrayals are, or maybe we just find an off-kilter but internally consistent mindset a far more interesting character than one which is a complete cipher. One thing which bugs me, though, about all of these is that they’re basically comedies. Rain Man (and its aforementioned predecessors) invite us to laugh at their main characters’ quirks. That’s OK when the character in question is just wacky, but when they’re ill too there’s a bit of an edge to it, and it kind of hurts the overall tone. Anthoer rather worrisome trend is to present the methodological disorders as actually having inordinate gifts attached to them, especially gifts of memory and calculation. I don’t know how typical this is, but I think it’s perhaps a disservice to those who do suffer from real problems that there’s an expectation that their curse will also be a blessing after a fashion. Fortunately, most of these works—and especially Rain Man—have a bit more to it than the “get a load of the freakshow!” vibe: there’s cause not only for laughter and awe but also commiseration, and that works. On the subject of character rapport, let me applaud the courageous decision not to take the easy, and mawkish, way out of having Raymond learn to comprehend love. He’s not a character who really can develop much, and shouldn’t. It preserves the integrity of the story far more for him to change other people than to be himself changed.

As I so often do, I have a parting shot. Namely, a question. I have a vague idea of the particular dysfunctions associated with autism, and I thought one of the things they had tremendous difficulty dealing with is high levels of sensory input. Shouldn’t being on the floor of the casino have caused Raymond to panic outright? Most Vegas casinos are a bit overwhelming even for those of us generally able to hold ourselves together.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Star Wreck, In the Pirkinning: Cinematic FreeBSD

Stop me if you’ve heard ths one.

Emperor James B. Pirk, with his Plingon security officer Dwarf and cybernetic helmsman Info, declares war on the Babel 12 space station, captained by Captain John K. Sherrypie

Half National-Lampoon-esque broad parody, half fanfic wet dream, and half intellectual property experiment, Star Wreck has 50% more descriptors than it’s actually earned. Moving beyond the broad “everything is vaguely-close-to-the-original-names” parody, there are some authentically funny moments, although not really enough to bring this film into the realm of notability. Its main claim to fame is its ridiculous budget and intriguing licensing. Yes, on a budget of roughly $0.00, a group of random Finns put together an arguably respectable film. It says a lot about the state of modern personal computing and video equipment, that you can do something this good without actually getting any professional gear. Not that this is up to, say, Hollywood blockbuster production standards, but its effects and virtual sets would be pretty enviable even by big production studios 15 or so years ago. The corner-cutting is obvious in places: the actors aren’t terribly skilled, and the real sets are kind of lame, but that only adds to the camp value (and why shouldn’t the Babel 12’s reactor room look like every HVAC machine room ever made?). Anyways, the film is released under Creative Commons and available for download, so there’s reallynothing preventing anyone who has the slightest interest in seeing this film from doing so. That alone merits a recommendation.

See also: Official website, IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Postman Always Rings Twice: Better than anticipated

[Screenshot]For the first half-hour or so I was expecting something somewhat akin to Double Indemnity with better acting. I was pleasantly surprised to see the story go beyond the somewhat clichéd “younger working-man falls in love with his old employer’s wife, and the two of them kill him”. This film is one of the few I can think of with a really good grasp on situational irony, and the plot is far more involved than the initial perception lets on. So from a plot perspective, I enjoyed the film. The cinematography is par for the era: nothing fancy, really. As for acting—well, it’s hit or miss. Everyone hams it up a lot, but some with more sensitivity than others. John Garfield keeps his acting the most restrained, but the lovely Lana Turner is a bit over the top, and Cecil Kellaway is trying entirely too hard to be loathsome (mainly, I’d imagine, because the pretext for murder is so weak: the second attempt made some sense, but at the time of the first murder attempt, I couldn’t help but think he hadn’t actually done anything to merit that kind of treatment). Un-nuanced acting aside, I’m a fan of this film. Stay the course through the predictable first half hour or so: it gets better.

Apropos of nothing, Netflix reports the existence of a 1981 remake. I’m not entirely entranced by their blurb, though:

This remake of John Garfield’s classic film noir goes where 1940s Hollywood feared to tread: into the realm of explicit sex.

I knew there was something missing from this film! Everything’s better with on-screen simulated copulation! Actually, it stars Jack Nicholson, so maybe it’s not all that dire, but I’m still in no hurry to see it. How often are remakes better than the original, anyways? The Maltese Falcon, Gaslight, The Man Who Knew Too Much… that’s all I can think of.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Brothers Grimm: Bargain-Basement Gilliam

[Screenshot]This is clearly a Terry Gilliam film in some aspects, and rings rather false in others. The settings which are at the same time more fantastic and mundane than they seem; the alternatingly snappy and dim wits of the protagonists; the mythohistorical setting… I mean, it’s basically a less madcap version of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. That’s at best lukewarm praise, really; Munchausen derives its charm from its over-the-top and off-the-wall fantasticalelements, and a mainstream, less fantastic version of the same isn’t all that desirabe. I enjoyed it while I was watching, but I was left overall with a distinct sense of unmemorability. I think it’s just trying too hard. Also, Matt Damon, IMO, was an unwise choice. He’s not a bad actor, it’s jsut that he’s always Matt Damon, and his Mattdamonocity wasn’t quite right for this film.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Trois couleurs, Rouge: Last station

[Screenshot]Rouge is a film which manages to be about a great deal with very little actually happening. This leaves the plot feeling a bit threadbare: we get only a dim sketch of Valentine’s brother, and all we know of Auguste is that his fate is echoing that of the old judge. There’s a hint that Auguste and Valentine might well be able to redeem eachother’s fragmented lives at the end, although given the indeterminate state that leaves Michel in… well, let’s just say I was left mildly unsatisfied by the ending, but all that led up to it I approved of tremendously. The two central characters are well-fleshed-out and highly realistic. For instance, Valentine is a wonderful champion for the cause of human worth: she’s not a heroic figure, saving the world or touching hundreds of lives, but instead is an essentially decent person which, one might say is this film’s thesis, is all one truly needs. I think red is supposed to be the color of fraternity (I’m going by the order of the films and the revolutionary slogan, so I might be off), so the central drama of this film is how people ought to relate to other people. Most people want to judge: Michel, the old judge, Auguste—but Valentine’s role as the noble character in this story is that her sense of duty exceeds her temptation to judge.

Er, I think, anyways. It’s a pretty heavy story, working a lot of symbolic angles and repetitive themes while maintaining an essential level of realism, so it’s quite possible that I missed the main theme entirely; it doesn’t help that I still haven’t seen Bleu, althoguh the connections between the films seem mostly non-plot-related (I recognized the recycling woman, Karol, and Dominique from Blanc; I assume the other two ferry passengers are from Bleu). Apropos symbolism, the setting and cinematography deserve special note: since the film is called Rouge, one would expect the color red to appear prominenty, and it does, but not in a way which makes you think “damn, that’s really red”, except in scenarios where that would be appropriate. The red occurs in the everyday: a red Jeep, a dark pink tablecloth, brick red awnings, and so forth. Except at times when it appears to be intentional, the world of Rouge does not seem oppressively monochrome. But it’s definitely got a lot of redness in it. I’d imagine Blanc had a lot of whiteness in it, too, and that I didn’t notice.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.