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Movie Review

Quick Review: Being Human Season 4, Hysteria and I Like You

Being Human Season 4

I started watching BBC’s Being Human Season 4. Don’t do it. They tried to make it into a comedy. A really fucked up comedy. That isn’t all that funny.

Hysteria

What do you think was the greatest invention of the Victorian Era? Wrong. It was the vibrator. And if you want to see a dramatization of its invention check out this movie. Also, Hugh Dancy.

I Like You by Amy Sedaris

Read it if you need a laugh and find alcoholism jokes amusing.

Movie Review: Anna Karenina

Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina had a lot to live up to. First is, and most importantly in my opinion, is the undertaking of translated Tolstoy’s beautiful work into a film. Second is the fact that this book has already been made into multiple adaptations. Third is that he has continued to show his growth as an expert and masterful director, so the pressure was on to continue this streak.

I have to applaud Wright for putting everything on the line by creating a conceptual version of the film. Using the stage as the basis for the act that is participating in the game of society we see our characters move gracefully through the story. Setting and props moved with purpose and the camera cuts an exquisite path through the action. The actors move with the grace of ballet dancers as they dress, do paperwork and move through the sets. Continue reading “Movie Review: Anna Karenina”

Review: The Strawberry Tree

I had a chance to view The Strawberry Tree (El Arbol de las Fresas) last night and still have mixed feelings about it today despite thinking on it all night.

Here’s a quick sentence from the synopsis found at the USC Cinematic Arts site:

Testing the boundaries between anthropology, documentary and reverie, the film is a mesmerizing cinematic poem that portrays with rigorous restraint the final sigh of one of Cuba’s last fishing villages.

I’m glad I read this before going for multiple reasons. First it gave me an idea about how to view it, i.e. as an anthropologist with room for this “poetic” license. Second, it gave me an understanding of what I was about to see, which was great since we aren’t given much guidance during the film. Lastly there is some fantastic historical information that shows the importance of the location, this too is sadly not included in the film itself.

It starts off really strongly, placing us in the midst of a conversation between four people (who we later see more of as the film progresses). They joke about the storm and how easily their homes feel to it. In this quick scene we see a wonderful snapshot of the vivid personalities existing in the rather bleak setting we come to know through the rest of the film.

After this part we are given a view of daily life in the area through observation and interviews. Kids play around, adults are making food, repairing nets, killing goats, etc. The candid conversations between the filmmaker and the people are beautiful and honest. What appeals to me most about them is the inclusion of references to the filmmaker, Simone. It shows the relationship that was formed over the process of making the film and is a great example of why anthropologists should include their presence in the fieldwork in their final products.

There isn’t a solid narrative, which doesn’t necessarily detract from the movie as a whole, but during the last section I was left with too many questions. We follow this village throughout their daily lives and as the day draws to a close we see people dancing. After this there is a shot of someone leaving a home, getting into a car and driving away. Fade to black. Another nighttime shot of the same scene we just saw. Fade to black. Morning.

Then we are treated to a prolonged look at the fisherman from underwater. By prolonged I mean awkwardly long. Many people around me started talking to each other, asking what was happening, what should they be looking for. We are watching fish long after we see the process of catching them.

This was followed by a shot of what looked like a dried up riverbed, with two dogs racing around occasionally and some lightning in the distance. This too was overly long. We sat there, waiting for some purpose and then the film ends.

Like Forest of Bliss I kept looking for a story, or some semblance of purpose in this last portion. What were the filmmaker’s intentions? The fact that a general idea didn’t pop into my head immediately is troubling. Sure, it could be representing the anxious waiting for the storm to come, but I only feel that way because I read the synopsis.

I wished that we had gotten to see some discussion of the aftermath at the end. Even if it cut back to the interviews we saw in the first shot I would have felt the film was more complete.

The lack of focus I felt was literal and metaphorical. As I’ve discussed above, I was left with too many questions as I walked out. In the literal sense I have to say there were way too many out-of-focus shots. This is a minor thing, and I know the issues of keeping focus with a moving subject, but there were times that I feel like the focus could have easily been fixed (like the one-on-one talks).

Overall I liked this look at the town that seems to have been pretty bleak at the start, and then wiped out by a storm. I only wish the end had done the first part justice.

Anna

So I’m finally reading Anna Karenina, and I’m hoping to be done by the first day of classes (that’s not a depressing read at all).

First of all, even though I’m only 25% of the way in I can see how it has become a classic, worthy of multiple re-reads. Next time I read it (yes, I KNOW there will be a next time) I want to pay attention to the translation.

Second, now that I’ve started it and know a good deal about the plot I re-watched the trailer and behind-the-scenes video for the movie version coming out this year. At first I was kind of annoyed, because as much as I shamelessly love Joe Wright and Keira Knightley, I feel like their pairing is kind of stale. I actually loved her in Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, but from the little I’ve seen of her in the trailer I don’t get a good sense of her portraying a different character, especially not one so richly described in the novel.

The behind-the-scenes video explained that the majority of the sets are in this theater, reflecting the stage-like quality of the Russian elite. I feel like this could either come of brilliantly or just be awful. There’s a part of me that wants it to work because I haven’t seen a good conceptual film work in recent years. I remember seeing clips of some conceptual Shakespearean productions that were fantastic, forcing the audience to pay attention to the words, the characters and acting instead of a rich backdrop. Considering this is a classic, and has been remade so many times I could see how this would break with the traditional forms and bring some new life to the well-known story.

I’m crossing my fingers it goes well. Also, I really want some elaborate dresses and furs. Thanks.

The Hunger Games movie

I dragged myself out of bed this morning to watch the first showing of The Hunger Games at my local theater and it was well worth it. Spoilers abound.

I liked that the cinematic style started off with the shaky feel of a documentary. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very grand camera sweeps and editing later, but I feel that was fitting for the Capitol, while the loose style used for the District 12 shots felt right. Going along with the basic look of the film I think there was just enough special effects and editing used to show off the Capitol, it didn’t feel excessive and overwhelming (I’m looking at you Star Wars prequels). I do wish they had been more consistent about the use of text to specify locations. Maybe I didn’t notice it, but only the only used it twice (for District 11 and 12), while I feel like it may have been fruitless to use it for the Capitol it would have been consistent.

The Mockingjay pin is given to Katniss at the Hob and then to Prim, then back to Katniss, which is a pretty drastic change from the books. I was concerned with this change before watching the movie because for Katniss to have a pin in her possession when her family was starving, and she could readily trade said pin for food, was ridiculous. But they made it work by letting her have it so close to the Reaping. Also, it could very well have been made from cheap materials.

I actually preferred the change because it added another layer to the relationship between Katniss and Prim, which could not have been easily shown in a movie. I actually always felt their sisterhood lacked a lot of description in the books, but this gesture and other moments really brought home how close the two were. Which led me to my first tears later on when Katniss volunteers.

That scene brought goosebumps to my arms every time I saw the trailer, but watching the entire scene play out on screen was heartbreaking. The utter silence of the crowd and Prim is devastated is chilling. The sacrifice Katniss is making in her shocked state is acted superbly by Jennifer Lawrence.

As the characters spend time in the Capitol before the games begin I really liked that I began to feel anticipation. I think that because this is a movie there wasn’t a lot of time for character development for the stylists, Cinna, Effie or Haymitch, but they did a damn good job of getting in everything they could.

Once the games began the jump from the arena to the outside world grew on me. Yes, a lot of that wasn’t in the book, but it broke up what would have been a monotonous bunch of footage of kids wandering in the woods for days (Harry Potter 7, is that you?). Snow’s careful attention to his roses reminded me a lot of the dreadful Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland, and Seneca Crane’s beard can take me out to dinner anytime it wants.

Rue’s angelic face as she died brought forth more tears than I shed for Dobby (GASP). As the fat tears rolled down her cherubic cheeks, and Katniss wreathed her in flowers I just couldn’t not cry. I felt that that whole part was really well paced and Katniss’ stages of grief were so real. Then the cut to the rebellion in District 11 kept me crying because this is what happens when innocent people die, eventually we rise up together. I do wish that the bread had been sent to Katniss from District 11 because in the books it was a grand gesture for one of the poorest districts to scrimp together enough money to send that to her.

The dogs at the end weren’t what was described in the books, but I preferred them because they fit better in to the universe created in the movie than the weird, spliced beings in the book would have. If they had created the creatures from the book I think the audience would have been too distracted to pay attention to the tributes fight to survive.

Overall I have to say it was an almost perfect adaptation from a book to a movie. I say almost because not everything was included, which would have been an impossible feat. A lot of credit has to be given to the screenwriter for touching on as many aspects of the book as possible. I’ve found adaptations that work are the ones that stay as true to the book as is humanly possible without trying to rewrite the plot for their own purposes. (Example: Look at the difference between Order of the Phoenix and the rest of the Harry Potter film franchise. That was the one film with a different writer and he touched on as much as he could instead of twisting the plot for his own devices)

Go watch it. Now.

Odds and ends

The gradual flashbacks to the moment Peeta threw bread to Katniss were paced really well.

I thought the costuming was great and reinforced how clothing has always been a status symbol.

I was glad no one in my theater clapped as the tributes died because if you think about it, everyone was dying because of the Capitol and their need for dominance (amongst other things).

If you’re going to be loud and rowdy go to the midnight showing.

If you’re in your 30s and still giggling over the short Breaking Dawn trailer then you may need help. (Looking at the ladies who sat beside me… c’mon, you sounded like PRE-teens.)

On that note, the theater is not a book club, shut the hell up (or go to the midnight showing).

No avoxes, but there’s sure to be room in the future movies to explore that if they choose.

I liked Peeta, though I could stand to rewatch the movie to get a better idea of the peripheral characters.

Glad the movie had no love triangle slant.

They did manage to show Haymitch’s transition from drunkard to sober guide.

Why the hell is Effie the only one with a British accent?

Side Rant:

I feel like I see a lot of petty arguments popping up online in regards to this film. A lot of people are making noise about Battle Royale (which I haven’t read) being similar and superior to this series. Others tried to exploit the love triangle parts of the story to compare it to the Twilight series.

Any arguments to draw people to one fandom or another are cringe-worthy to me. It brings me back to high school when I nonchalantly told my friend, after a heated argument over Heroes and Lost, that I actually liked both. I was informed that I could not like both. I was told, forcefully, that it was not feasible for me to be a fan of those two shows and that I would have to pick one. I guess they were pitted against each other because they were the only two sci-fi/fantasy shows on at the time (?). Whatever her reasons then seem just as unreasonable to me now when people try to force one fandom on people. People will like what they want, leave them be.

And on the subject of any comparisons to Twilight, there shouldn’t be any. They are two books written for very different audiences. Trust me, I spent about three weeks having scholarly discussion about the Twilight series in my upper-division college English course.

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