26 June 2010

Be With Me

This is not a very good movie, but there are a couple interesting things about it.

To begin with the weaknesses - the film is meant to be three interwoven stories. The interweaving is the least compelling bit of it - the characters do appear in each other's stories, but in a highly coincidental, and not particularly interesting fashion. Secondly, the fact is, the movie isn't really that interested in two of the stories - they're really just kind of there, it seems, to beef up the primary one, namely, the story of a woman named Theresa Poh Lin Chan, whose autobiography provided the material.

Theresa is indeed a fascinating individual. At the age of 10, she became blind and deaf. Yet, she somehow managed to learn English - this completely blows my mind - and even to SPEAK it. The portion of the film dealing with her is ostensibly about her friendship with a lonely widower, but really, it's mostly about her. And she is really interesting. Curiously enough, she spends a lot of time talking about how miserable her life has been. But she's also sort of resigned to it, and puts her faith in God. This may sound uninteresting, but when you watch her, there really is something magnetic and tremendously inspiring about her. The movie is almost worth renting just to see her.

The other somewhat interesting aspect is the narrative mode of the film. In that a lot of the story is conveyed non-verbally, through text messages and internet chats, or a letter that one character is trying to write. In fact, most of the speech in the movie is Theresa's. But there are also a lot of shots of people speaking to her, namely, signing into her hand. There's something really neat about the way the film propels itself through all these various modes of communication. It makes me think about realism and storytelling, and what the most appropriate form of a realistic story would seem to be.

Ultimately though - it's not that compelling a movie, mostly because the first two stories are basically tired cliches. So there you have it.

25 June 2010

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, by Roddy Doyle

This book is in some ways very similar to another one of Doyle's, The Woman Who Walked into Doors (which I really liked). It's the same stream-of-consciousness, episodic narrative style, where you're seemingly getting everything with the immediacy of the character's perspective. The problem is, unlike the other book, where the narrator is a middle aged woman with a lot to say, the narrator here is a ten year old boy. Who doesn't have a whole lot going on in his life outside the usual 10 year old stuff, except for what appears to be the dissolution of his parents' marriage. So where The Woman has a compelling narrative arc, and a kind of progression, Paddy Clarke just sort of ambles along. The real merit of the book is the voice, which is indeed rendered quite well. But ultimately... I just don't find 10 year old boys all that compelling.

16 June 2010

One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding, by Robert Grover

An interesting idea, but ultimately not as good as you'd like it to be. Written in 1962 (and very much of the time), the novel is about a white college fratboy and a black prostitute, and the weekend they spend together. The twist is that the chapters alternate between their perspectives, and the fun of that is supposed to be that neither can understand the other. They're practically speaking different languages. I think it was probably a really important book at the time it was written, but it's clearly dated now.

The thing is though, there's not much in the way of development. Neither of them really learns much from the encounter, and the plot is mostly pretty predictable. There are moments where it seems like they could actually come to some sort of understanding, but they never do. Also, the characters are both basically caricatures - the guy, especially, is so annoying that you get incredibly sick of him (and his pretensions and prudery) very quickly.

Still, it's kind of an interesting read. And quick - I got through it in less than three hours.

08 June 2010

Georgy Girl

Oh man. This movie is so weird. It got some attention recently with the passing of Lynn Redgrave, and shot up to Very Long Wait on the Netflix, but by some miracle, I actually got a copy (despite the fact that I've been waiting a good 3 months for Malcolm X, which is listed as Short Wait).

So, the plot revolves around Georgy, a chubby 22 year old virgin. She thinks no one will ever love her. Her roommate (a very young Charlotte Rampling, which is kind of fascinating) is a party girl. I don't really wanna give away the plot, but basically, 2 men end up vying for Georgy's affections, and she has to decide what to do. But that's not really the point.

There are two really weird things about this movie.
One is that it's this really bizarre anti-abortion propaganda film. It's so weird. There's a scene where a woman casually refers to "destroying" babies and mentions having had multiple abortions. When she ultimately does have a baby, she basically ignores it and wants to give it up for adoption immediately. She has absolutely no maternal instincts whatsoever. It's comedic in its cruelty. Meanwhile, Georgy, as it turns out, really just wants a baby. She's not necessarily asexual, but by the end of the film, it's pretty clear that she really just wants to be a mother. It's so weird, because on the one hand it's really disturbing and kind of disappointing, but on the other hand, she's kind of likeable and quirky so you sort of want her to get what she wants.

The other weird thing, which I actually loved, is the song-and-dance routine in the middle of it. I tried to find it on youtube, but no luck (you can, however, watch Lynn Redgrave on the Muppets show, which is nice). The scene is like this awesome throwback to the silver screen starlets of the 20s and 30s like Rita Hayworth or Lena Horne. The scene is totally random, and rather out of character, but it's just amazing.
It goes along with this thing that I really liked in the movie, which was Georgy's proclivity for randomly shouting sometimes. I have a similar tendency, so I particularly enjoyed it.

But yeah. It's a really strange film. In a way, it's charming, but it's also just... odd. You sort of have the sense that it's capturing a kind of ethos, but one that's in a kind of tension with the film's actual plot. Still, there are some really wonderful scenes. But overall, yeah, I can't really make up my mind how I feel about it.

A Prophet

For whatever reason, the preview for this movie didn't make me want to see it. I kind of thought it'd be gratuitously brutal and just not that good. But it was playing at my local campus theatre, and I kept hearing it was really good, so I figured I'd check it out. I'm so glad I did. Wow. This movie is stunning. Visually, it's jaw-droppingly incredible. It's so incredibly shot, it's just exquisite. The plot, while a little bit confusing (to me at least) keeps you interested, and really, it's particulars are less important than the development of the main character, which is incredibly compelling.

Malik goes from being a basically mute guy who falls afoul of the law to being a self-assured, educated criminal. The simultaneous development of the criminality and the self-assurance is the really fascinating part. You're always cheering for him, even when he's doing some pretty fucked up things. Partly, this is because he retains a kind of innocence - there's an absolutely breathtaking scene where he flies on an airplane for the first time, but there's also this moment in a scene where he's basically executing some guys where it suddenly switches to silent slow-motion and he's just kind of floating in this pile of bodies in a vaguely Christ-like way. It's really impressive.

This isn't something that I tend to notice much, but the sound in the movie was phenomenal. There are, to my recollection, only 3 songs in the film, but each of them is so fantastically effective in setting the scene. Aside from those though, the sound is kind of... barren, in a way, which makes it somehow more powerful. Really impressive stuff.

It's not a perfect film - some of the sideplots are slightly less compelling, and it feels a bit cluttered at moments, but still, it's a really incredible movie. Very much worth seeing - on the big screen if you can, because seriously, visually, it's a masterpiece.

03 June 2010

Breathless

Godard at his best. This is what hipsters aspire to. This movie sets the stage for dismal crap like Funny Ha Ha - it's young self-absorbed aimlessness rendered as sexy and thrilling. The movie follows a young criminal named Michel, who steals a car, kills a cop, and attempts to woo a young American girl (who by the way has a fantastic haircut that I totally want). It's this fantastic French New Wave look at these utterly narcissistic young people who yearn to BE something. Michel stares longingly at movie posters and quotes Bogart and goes around committing crime with absolutely no sense of consequence. Even towards the end, he's totally unable to take life seriously - it's all posturing and gesture. He's a complete asshole, but he's just charming enough to make it work. Patricia, his paramour, is a somewhat vague young lady who's easily swayed by romantic ideas. She's gorgeous, with a charming smile and an adorable gleam in her eyes, but spends most of the movie mooning around trying to figure out what she's thinking about, because she really wants to be thinking about something. This was what reminded me of Funny Ha Ha - her desire to be interesting and intellectual, with no sense really of how to achieve it other than standing next to a poster of a Renoir painting and asking if she resembles it.

What's brilliant about the movie is the way it simultaneously romanticizes the characters and shows how they're caught up in romanticized notions that surround them, such as movie posters, Paris streets, etc. While the movie doesn't explicitly condemn them, it's also not advocating for their life - in other words, the narrative perspective is more clearly distanced from the protagonists (which is often an issue I have with contemporary hipster films - the ambiguity of the perspective). All in all, it's an absolutely brilliant film - a real classic.