Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story - Reaction

A short movie told through barbie dolls about a singer's (Karen Carpenter of The Carpenters) death due to anorexia. I applaud the choice; the barbie dolls reflect a plastic, overly clean, impossible notion of femininity. The movie also used other props such a container of ex-lax.

It's clearly an advocacy film, with narration explaining anorexia and its social milieu. The scenes using barbie and ken dolls were moving, a fact that surprised me. The narration, however, made the film lose ground when it appeared, bringing one out of the story, which actually had a soap-opera feel, and into the larger social context. In contrast, interspersed montages, which used real footage, provided atmosphere without disrupting the narrative. But there were also interjected interviews with people reflecting on the singer's life--these felt out of place, tossed in as part of the rest of the hodgepodge.

The movie appears to be coarse-grained, though some of that could be because I watched a bad, nth-hand copy.

The film was never distributed because the creators never acquired the rights use The Carpenters' music (which serves as the soundtrack throughout the film), rights which were probably denied because the film portrays Karen's brother in a bad light. Nevertheless, the film is freely available online.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Valet (La Doublure) - Reaction


A decent French comedy-drama-romance about the situation that arises because a rich man needs to cover up an affair. (A regular guy was passing as he was photographed with his mistress supermodel. He pays the regular guy and the supermodel to pretend to be a couple so it doesn't look like he's with the supermodel.) Although short, it's slow at times. Nevertheless, it has some great lines.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Sound of Music - Reaction

A well done family film about a nun/governess and her family in Austria during the coming of the third Reich. Includes a love triangle. This film is a musical, containing songs with good lyrics and good choreography and that are so catchy they made their way into our common cultural knowledge (i.e., I recognized many of them though I'd never seen the movie before). The setting--Austria--is beautiful and offers many opportunities to see expansive vistas. The cinematography is likewise good. Though the movie is long (three hours), the length didn't bother me. In short, it's a good quality movie that's rightly called a classic and it's no wonder the film is one of the top grossing films of all time and a winner of five Oscars.

I want to record in particular that the puppet scene is a lot of fun.

The movie is mainly about family and "about freedom, hope, and facing our lives and future with a positive outlook", as one reviewer said. Also, some songs/relationships involve traditional gender roles; others have more female empowerment. Many reviewers claim the movie and its themes are too sugary / syrupy / "schmaltz"-y, but it didn't seem to bother me.

I learned a lot about the film from reading about it afterwards and from listening to the commentary track.

  • The screenplay was based on a fictionalized musical based on the true story book written by the Von Trapps themselves.
  • The movie was made for a lower budget than I thought. For instance, they filmed some scenes on a stage so they didn't have to pay people overtime to film in the house at night. (But, yes, some scenes were filmed on location in Austria.)
  • Some dubbing of the singing occurred, though not much.
  • Most of the children got taller during filming -- visual tricks were used to minimize this.

Monday, August 11, 2008

8 Mile - Reaction

A not-bad film about a rapper in an impoverished side of Detroit trying to find his voice. The first half of the film shows him idling around, with nothing really happening, which I suppose is an accurate reflection of life in that community. Sadly, however, I was disappointed that not much more happens in the second half. Nevertheless, I appreciated the movie's portrayal of a world I have no familiarity with, and the movie's exploration of attitudes in that community to jobs, women, and money.

I wish I knew more about the rapper's final status with his girlfriend.

Writing this response far after the fact, I vaguely recall liking the rap battles (both in the movie and in the special features).

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe - Reaction

A good fantasy movie with high production values. Whether computer graphics or costumes, it's clear they paid attention to detail. (Indeed, the film won an oscar for make-up.) I wouldn't call it an epic because an epic feels long, grand, and complicated. This movie is about as complicated a story as you can tell a child. The characters are straightforward. And, although long, it doesn't feel long. Furthermore, during the first half of the film, the kids are just looking for their brother, which is not really a traditional epic quest.

I found something odd about the way the real animals are animated, but I'm not bothered by the fake animals and monsters. I thought the monsters in particular were animated very well. Also, the fawn's acting was adorable.

Despite the PG rating, the movie is dark at times and I don't think it's entirely appropriate for kids.

There's an obvious Jesus allegory here. Also, I couldn't believe there's a Santa-Clause/Father-Christmas figure. (I haven't read the book since elementary school, and completely forgot about it.)

It's interesting to hear the commentary by the child-actors. By listening to the commentary, I also learned the film was shot generally in order according to the script--an unconventional choice--to make it easier for the kids to act, and because the kids grow over time.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A History of Violence - Reaction

A not-half-bad movie with a measured pace about a calm, quiet, family man in a small town, and what happens when allegations of his violent past emerge. As such, it's a movie about character. Sadly, the plot felt like it was written by someone in Creative Writing 101. Furthermore, it's hard to understand the villains' and hero's motivations.

Nevertheless, the film deals with many deep issues. The movie's plot shows that even if a person is resurrected--this word was primed by the image of jesus at the beginning of the movie--, he can't leave his past/history behind. In a similar vein, it's about the impossibility of escaping violence. It's also about opening one's self and telling the truth to one's spouse, even if one's already been redeemed for past actions. In addition, the film touches on a mistaken sense of normalcy--how normal can life really be? Finally, it's about the inheritance of violence in children from parents. It explores why people turn out the way they do, and wonders whether violence begets violence through bad examples or through genetic nature--survival of the fittest. As such, this theory returns to idea that violence tends to become pervasive.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Darkon - Reaction

An interesting, well-put-together, funny-at-times, open-minded documentary about people who play a particular live-action role playing game, what they think about it, and why they do it. The real-life characters are interesting and they do a good job acting in fantasy-life roles. (Indeed, the costumes they make are much better than I expected. In fact, they display an impressive commitment to role playing in terms not only of costumes and makeup but also time.) The movie is by necessity haphazardly photographed, as it's trying to capture unscripted fast-paced events.

Although the film mentions the rules of the game (different colored weapons, how they affect various armors, the rules of resurrection, etc.), it mainly focuses on what the players get out of the game. Some players use the game as a form of escapism from real life. The game is where they can pursue the American dream: to live their lives as they desire. Some of these players draw the analogy that just as reality, where one has responsibilities, is like adulthood, the fantasy world is like childhood, where one is unencumbered and more free. Others use fantasy role playing to gain confidence and train for real-world situations, developing skills for socializing, playing politics, negotiating, or leading. (One person playing the game for this purpose, Danny, says "sometimes Danny doesn't have the balls to do what needs to be done.") Interestingly, a number of players reflect upon the idea that just as they're playing a role in the game, they're playing a role in their real lives.

The movie also explores the different lines people draw between this world and the real world. For instance, some players' characters don't date in the game even if they're dating outside of it. Players generally try to maintain real-world friendships regardless of in-game actions, though sometimes the line is crossed and real life impinges on one's fantasy life and vice versa.

I particularly liked two scenes: one, the neat opening transition from a hexagonal game board (the common board for role playing games) to an aerial view of the suburbs, and two, a brief interview with an Iraqi war veteran who plays and why he does so.

Some of the deleted scenes are quite good.

I must admit the movie is probably not interesting to people who've never role played.

I first heard about the film through a radio segment: The Role of a Lifetime (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). The story provides a good overview of the film and its feel. (Listen to the story; if you read the transcript, you'll miss out on the sounds and voices.)