28 February 2013

Dispatches from the !f Festival

One of the unexpected delights of living in Ankara turns out to be masses of film festivals. This weekend, it's the !f festival, and so I'm looking forward to spending the next few days watching loads and loads of movies. I got off to an excellent start today with:

Frances Ha
I was hesitant, because it's a Noah Baumbach movie, and I really did not like The Squid and the Whale, but I was willing to give it a go. And I'm glad I did. It's a sweet and surprisingly restrained film about Frances, a young woman who is trying to find herself and kind of making a mess of things. Fortunately, while the movie follows her through some pretty ridiculously bad decisions, there's nothing profoundly tragic or awful. Her life isn't ruined, she's going to be ok, and the vague sense of dread you feel gradually dissipates as the film goes on. Really though, it's a movie about the love shared by this woman and her best friend, and it does a really wonderful job with that. My friend Colleen and I were talking about it afterwards and she brought up Bridesmaids, and indeed, much like that movie, one of the great things about this one is how it manages to truthfully depict the kinds of conversations women have with each other - which is just not something you see all that often. The movie isn't quite a probing inquiry into the dynamics of BFF love - it sort of dips into the problem of jealousy and friends vs lovers, and whether that kind of friendship can work between men and women, but it doesn't launch a full-on investigation. But I liked it. Next up was

Laurence Anyways
Oh man. This was such a sweeping, gorgeous movie. It clocks in at 2 1/2 hours, and yes it must be admitted, the last half hour drags and sort of can't bring itself to end, but I loved the first two hours so much that I didn't really mind. I was completely swept up into it, with it's big, loud passions and beautiful shots and dramatic music. So much FEELING. The movie follows the story of a couple that is madly in love (a slightly less wild couple than the one in this music video, which I have to admit, despite my many issues with the ways in which she chooses to present herself in media these days, I just adore), and then Laurence announces that he wants to become a woman, and things get rocky. Big time. They love each other so hard, and they struggle so hard, and it is gut-wrenching and powerful. I was right there with it, though my friends found it over the top. Perhaps partly because of the thematic similarities, but also because of the visual and auditory aesthetic, it also reminded me of this music video, which I also love.* Anyways, it's a flawed film, but a wonderful one - definitely recommended.

*And here I need to credit my friend Luis, who did this fascinating series of blogposts on straight-transgender encounters in music videos that you should totally read.

16 February 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard

Early on in A Good Day to Die Hard, Jack McClane is involved in a commando-style mission to free a valuable Russian prisoner, when up pops his father, Bruce Willis, who nags him about what he's doing, chiding him for having failed to keep in touch, thereby jeopardizing the whole mission. It's a strange scene - John McClane as querulous aging parent who is utterly unaware that there may be more important things to think about right now? Really? Alas, it turns out to be a mere taste of what is to come: an entire movie that seems unable to realize that there's a time and a place for action, and (cliche) sentiment is only getting in the way of more things exploding.

The movie features some truly fantastic action sequences. I can not even begin to tally how many cars were crushed in the making of this film. Great balls of flame billowed across the screen. It was neato. Bruce Willis did not get quite as dirty as he does in the previous films (where he is somehow permanently encrusted with dust and grime in a strangely charming way), but he did bleed a lot. Unfortunately, for every epic action sequence, there was an equally long scene where Jack and John talked about their feelings, in scenes that were as boring as the others were exciting. And unfortunately, seem to stay in your mind a lot longer. I really don't understand why Hollywood has decided that action movies need to be leavened with trite psychology - James Bond's troubled childhood and fears of commitment, the nature of heroism, the various struggles to be a good boyfriend, or father, or son... What's wrong with just blowing things up a lot?

The frustrating thing about this film was that it had some good ideas for how it wanted to play up the father-son dynamic, and then it failed to properly follow through on any of them. Lip service was paid to the idea of Bruce Willis representing the "old school" cop and his son being a modern spy type, but the movie didn't do all that much with that premise. There was some gesturing towards playing up the quirky cliches of Russians, but they limited themselves to one surprisingly restrained taxi driver scene. Why not ham it up guys? Have a little fun with it!

Another odd aspect of this movie was that whereas Bruce Willis, in the first four movies, is barely dragging himself along by the end of the film, this time he was basically invincible. It pushed the limits of absurdity, and it made the movie a lot more bland. Of course we know he and his son aren't going to die. But come on, if you pull a 4 inch screw out of your guts, you're probably not gonna feel so hot. And you can only fall from such great heights a few times before your body just gives up and breaks. Come on now.

It was not a good day to die hard. Not a very good day at all.

12 February 2013

The Theory Generation

I know I've been seriously neglecting this blog, and I am on the verge of resolving to be better about that (I've been too busy to resolve to yet, but I will, I will), but meanwhile, here is a really fascinating piece on contemporary writing:


The author posits that there is a wave of writers of recent fiction who came up in liberal arts schools when the Theory craze was just getting off the ground (or was already entrenched) and that this is increasingly being reflected in their fiction, not on the level of form (the way it was for awhile with authors like Robbes-Grillet) but as content; characters explicitly citing Barthes' Lover's Discourse when talking about love, etc. It's definitely something I've noticed (and been alternately enthralled, bemused, and annoyed by), and I think this is a really interesting and multi-layered analysis of it, laden with insightful questions ("why such a low-stakes portrayal of what a humanities education gives you?" asks the author, making me think about the increasing devaluation of a humanities education) and
intriguing observations ("Theory, it turns out, is less intellectually powerful than emotionally useful"). Well worth a read.

05 February 2013

Movie 43

The only way I can really make sense of the idea behind this movie is that it's part of some kind of scheme to get revenge on a lot of Hollywood stars by degrading them as much as possible. Because I honestly don't believe that Peter Farrelly, who has made plenty of genuinely funny movies, could really have thought this was worthwhile. I mean, the idea is a good one - get a bunch of celebrities and put them in a string of outrageously lewd sketches. Definitely a promising start. Except that the humor in this movie is so wooden, dull, and even predictable, that it comes across as bizarrely mundane.

There are a few great moments. Semi-spoiler alert, in that I went and saw this movie knowing nothing about it, including who was in it, which decidedly contributed to the fun, so if you don't know either and actually want to see it, stop reading now or you'll rob yourself of one of the few pleasures the film offers. But highlights include a scene with Kieran Culkin and Emma Stone, and a very funny speech by Terrence Howard. There's a semi-comical sequence of men freaking out about menstruation that almost seems insightful, but maybe that's because of how dumb the rest of the film is. The movie's most shocking scene, to me at least, was one towards the end involving a cartoon cat. It was the one moment where the movie actually felt subversive.

Because here's the thing - gross has been done before. Accidentally masturbating to your mother is just not that risqué, especially if you've seen Polyester. I mean, it is gross, and cringe-inducing, but it's not really _that_ shocking, or all that funny. Which is a problem when you're making a movie that relies heavily on shock value in order to get some laughs.

Vaguely interesting is the sense one has that this is an attempt to make a movie version of a funny Internet video. But that genre just doesn't translate well to the big screen. I mean, good movies have been made based around skits (my friend Daniel mentioned Monty Python's Meaning of Life, and Woody Allen's Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, as successful examples). There were parts of this film that I could imagine getting a link to in my inbox from a friend. Many of the scenes might have been amusing if they'd ended about 5 minutes earlier. But overall, the film just falls flat.