That Movie Book

That Movie Book – Week Thirty Three

I know last week didn’t happen, but I felt a bit burnt out after Miyazaki Week and watched trash to compensate for it. This week I was back in business, though, and promised to watch at least one of the five suggestions. This week’s theme was “All Critics Are Wankers”

I ended up watching Ratatouille. A rat that loves to cook teams up with a guy who works in a kitchen who is a terrible cook, and together they make wonderful food and in turn help restore the reputation of the restaurant they work at.

This felt a bit too cutesy for me when it first came out, but I have heard a lot of positive things about it over the years so I figured I would give it a chance. It was pretty standard, story-wise; Remy the rat doesn’t fit in with his family, but can’t do what he wants to do (cook) without being persecuted. Linguine also doesn’t really fit in with his ‘family’ at the restaurant, but when the two of them work together they make something amazing. Or something like that. It wasn’t the most exciting or touching story that Pixar have done, but it did look pretty. The lights and atmosphere of Paris were gorgeous, and the food in the kitchens looked amazing. They obviously put a lot of effort into the details of the food, which makes sense seeing it’s a major aspect of the story, and it definitely makes a difference.

The main issue I had about this movie was the accents. For a film based in France, specifically in Paris, it really annoyed me that so many of the main characters were voiced by Americans. All the rats, Linguine, and most of the kitchen staff had American accents. Gusteau, Mustafa (the head waiter) and Colette were all voiced by Americans bunging on a clichéd French Accent. There were a few British voices in there, but that is still pretty pathetic for a film set in France. Why didn’t they get more French actors in to work on it? It’s not like there are no actors in France. It just felt really lazy and distracting, and while it didn’t ruin the film it did frustrate me a lot and if they had put a bit more effort into it I probably would have enjoyed it more.

 

After that I tried to watch All About Eve. A young lady meets her idol, an actress in the theatre. She works for the actress, studies everything about her, then becomes an actress herself and ends up overshining the original actress.

I wanted to enjoy this, I really did. The story sounded interesting, the actors were well known enough, it should have been easy enough to watch. I just really don’t like old films. This is from the 50’s and I got so sick of the breathy voice all the ladies had and while the story had potential it just felt Super Boring. I got about 50 minutes into it before deciding to give up. I feel a bit bad saying this, but if anyone decides to do a modern remake of it I would probably really enjoy it. I just couldn’t get interested in this version of it.

Also having never seen Bette Davis before, I was basing my opinion of her off half listened lyrics of Bette Davis Eyes. Now I’m not sure if having Bette Davis eyes is supposed to be a compliment like I thought it was, she has pretty sad looking eyes. Maybe I should actually listen to the song properly for once.

 

The other suggestions this week were Almost Famous, Inglourious Basterds (I’d already seen both of these), and Hamlet 2. Hamlet 2 sounds ridiculous, so I think it’s going on the list of movies to watch under my own steam at some point in the future. So this week wasn’t the most successful of weeks, but I’m happy enough that I watched something. Next Week is all about Wes Anderson, so that might be interesting!

That Movie Book Week Thirty One

I was pretty excited about this weekend. I went through a phase of being a little obsessed with mainstream Japanese culture (funnily enough around the time I decided to learn Japanese at school), and this was a nice way to relive that. Plus I have a cold so I felt this was a good way to justify spending the weekend watching cartoons in my jammies. Apologies in advance, this post is probably going to be a long one.

This week’s theme was “Inside The Magical World Of Hayao Miyazaki”. That’s right, it was Ghibli week this week. I had seen two of the suggestions before, but all five films were ones I had been meaning to (re)watch for a while and hadn’t gotten around to it, so I figured this was as good a chance as any. I managed to watch all five films this week, but I started a day early in order to fit them all in. The book talked about the English dubbed versions, but I went all authentic with Japanese and subtitles.

I started on Thursday with Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s the often-told story of a girl who gets on the bad side of a huge fat blob of a witch and gets turned into an old lady. She then meets a wizard, Howl, and they both help each other out and fall in love or whatever.

This certainly was a Miyazaki film. There is a cutesy, wandering feel to the whole thing that is reminiscent of all the Ghibli films I’ve watched so far. There is the obvious distinction between good and bad visually; Howl (good guy) is tall and attractive and all the ladies love him, while the Witch of the Wastes (bad guy) is a huge, monstrous lady who gets stripped of her powers and if a fat ugly old lady. Fairly straight forward who you should be cheering for. Also being old doesn’t necessary equate to being bad; the King’s advisor is an old witch, but because she did ‘good’ things she wasn’t fat and ugly. If you are good you are pretty, and if you’re bad you’re ugly. It’s pretty simple stuff, which makes sense seeing as it’s essentially a kid’s movie.

There are some aspects I would have liked to have seen explored a bit more. Howl is shown as vain and shallow because he feels life isn’t worth living if you’re not attractive, but then miraculously gets over that and moves on. Then there’s the Lady Suliman, who was Howl’s mentor, what is up with all that? Also, why does Sophie keep changing back and forth between the old lady self and the original self? I would have liked a bit more explanation in those kinda of aspects. That being said, the film is very pretty. Very Pretty. This is something that Miyazaki seems to do quite well, that complex, detailed world that also looks really beautiful. It was nice enough, but didn’t really seem to grab me that much. It felt a little too young for me.

 

Next up was Spirited Away. A girl (Chihiro) is moving to a new town with her parents. They stop at a village and her parents get turned into pigs. She gets a job at the bath house in the village, specially for spirits, and tries to work out a way to get her parents back the way they were with the help of a boy (Haku) who also works there.

Now, cards on the table, I was pretty drugged up on cold and flu medication when I watched this. I had already seen it, years ago, so I knew the gist of what was going on, but I may have been paying less attention than usual seeing as I could barely keep my eyes open. That being said, I think I can safely say that I enjoyed it more than Howl’s Moving Castle. While the storyline was a bit more wandering than Howl, the world Spirited Away was setting was much more magical. The various spirit characters were really detailed and interesting, and all the colours and layers and music just made it feel like a really full movie. The story also was nice in that it showed Chihiro’s growth as a character, from the scared, whiny child to someone with confidence and willingness to stand up for what she believes in. It’s a clichéd story, but it was done in a nice way that I didn’t roll my eyes at it. It feels like Miyazaki learned over the years what he did well and improved as a result. I can see why this one won an Oscar when it came out. I really liked it.

Again, I wish there was more backstory. These characters are so complex that the glimpse you get in the films isn’t really enough to satisfy me and just left me with a lot of questions. What is a NoFace? Why was Haku working for Yubaba? Why was Yubaba’s sister really mean when you first meet her and then super nice when Chihiro goes out to see her? Why does she live so far away from her sister, anyway? What caused whatever falling out they had? What’s with the giant baby? It’s frustrating, y’know?

 

Next up was Laputa: Castle in the Sky. A girl with a magical pendant falls from an airship and meets a boy from a mining town. They decide to go on an adventure which takes them to a magical floating castle, Laputa, where they, uh, live happily ever after? I dunno, I didn’t get that far.

Not really that much of a fan of this one. It felt kinda clunky and overly cartoony, like the afternoon kids shows I used to watch when I was younger. Plus the art style wasn’t something I liked, even though it was pretty similar to other Miyazaki things I’ve watched, it was a little different and just looked like an older style and it was distracting. I got bored pretty quickly and stopped watching it before they even made it to Laputa. Sorry Miyazaki, but I just didn’t care enough to continue..

 

Then came My Neighbour Totoro. A family move into an old (slightly abandoned) house, and get settled while the Mother is in hospital. the two girls, Sachiko and Mei find a spirit-y being that they believe is Totoro, a troll, and they have magical adventures with him.


(sorry about the pathetic trailer; it was literally the best I could find that was able to be embedded in here.)
 

I have been meaning to see this for a while, seeing as sometimes I feel like the only person I know who hasn’t watched this already. It was a bit slow to start, but I was happy to watch it because I wanted to see Totoro. The voices of the children were kind of annoying, but I have watched anime with more irritating voices so it wasn’t too bad.

It was a pretty strange movie, though. Cute, for sure, but still really strange. I probably won’t watch it again, because I didn’t really find it that interesting. I don’t completely understand why people get so obsessed about it. Sure, Totoro and Catbus were cute, but not really enough to want to wear clothes with them on it and squee over Totoro merchandise in store. To each their own, I guess.

 

And finally I watched Princess Mononoke. A young man from a forest tribe is poisoned when a Boar God becomes a demon and goes on a rampage. The man, Ashitaka, leaves the village in search of a cure and an explanation for what happened to the Boar God. He encounters a town built around producing iron, and the head of that town who is set on destroying the nearby forest and killing all the creatures in it. Ashitaka runs to the forest and tries to get people and animals to live in peace, teaming up with the Wolf God and falling in love with her human daughter, San. There’s also the Spirit of the Forest, whose head is supposed to grant immortality or something. It gets a bit confusing after a while.

This was the first subtitled anime I remember watching. My brother borrowed it from a friend (on VHS, how old school!) who was into anime and wanted Rowan to be too. I  remember the strangeness of the subtitles, and the being confused by the story because I would only pay attention to it in burst and essentially had no idea what was going on most of the time. This is the only one I watched this time around in English; I remember reading about how the American producers worked closely with Miyazaki to make sure the English translation was a close as possible, so I figured it would be ok. But the way Americans pronounce Japanese works grates on me so much that I think it possibly ruined the film for me. I had other things that needed doing so I couldn’t change it to Japanese and sit and watch it straight, which meant I just struggled through to mangled pronunciation of names.

Also it seemed to drag on a bit too long. By the time we got to the big climax of the film I felt like it should have come half an hour earlier. There was a lot of build up and I had burnt out a little by the end of it. Plus it got a preachy. Ok, I get it, humans should try and get along with nature, not destroy it. You don’t need to hammer it home quite that much, alright? This grumpiness about the film is probably because I was movied out by this point. Five films in a weekend is definitely too much for me to handle, even though I didn’t watch much of Laputa. I’ll probably give Mononoke another go at some point, in Japanese, but at the moment I don’t want to watch anything for a while.

 

So, in summary, this weekend was a bit of a slog. I did like the majority of the films that were suggested, I will admit that freely. I was also just really glad that fuckin’ Ponyo wasn’t on the list, because that is a really weird, vaguely irritating film that I never want to watch ever again. Ben bought it for me as a joke for Christmas one year, and I forced him to sit down and watch it with me. We both decided at the end of it to put it away and leave it on the shelf as a reminder of Bad Decisions. it was definitely a lesson learned and hopefully never repeated. Next week is about living in the suburbs, we’ll se how I go with those ones, eh?

That Movie Book – Week Thirty

Week Thirty! We made it! Only, uh, twenty two more weeks to go? It doesn’t sound like much of an achievement when I put it like that, I guess. Anyway, I’m still pretty proud that I’ve gotten this far with only a few missed weeks.

This week’s theme was “Nazis Are Bad: just in case you forgot”. The theme is pretty straight forward, but not particularly appealing. I have always been interested in the Nazis in general, fascinated at the awful things that were done at that time. I go through phases of watching documentaries about the concentration camps, watching people talk about what happened to them and feeling awful but at the same time not being able to stop watching. Even though I find them interesting, I wasn’t really looking forward to spending my weekend watching films about it. I only managed to get through one of the suggestions, and that was enough for me.

I watched Downfall. It focuses on the last twelve days of Hitler’s life, where he’s stuck in a bunker under Berlin while the Russian Army advance and there’s no one left on the German side to come and help.


(I know the quality isn’t great, but it was the best trailer I could find with subtitles)
 

This was a good film, albeit harrowing. It is a bit of a slog at two and a half hours, in German with subtitles, but it was still interesting enough to keep my attention for the majority of the time. My one major gripe was that there wasn’t much blood for a movie about war. I’m not saying it should have been super gory, but when someone shoots themselves in the head there should be less head left than most people seemed to have. At one point a guy shot himself in the head and fell to the ground, but there was no bullet wound on his head at all. It is telling how much more violent things are these days that it makes it noticeable when things aren’t realistically bloody, even to someone like me who doesn’t play really bloody video games. I’m not even that big a fan of gore, but when you show someone cutting limbs off soldiers, there has to be some blood coming out of the wound. That’s just common sense. It got pretty distracting after a while.

I do think that the way Hitler was portrayed in this was quite well done, though.  Marc Fennell made a good point in the book, which I didn’t really think about until after I finished the movie. He said there’s a fine line when it come to portraying people like the Nazis; you run the risk of either trivialising what they did, or making them into a stereotypical bad guy cliché. Downfall managed to tread that line quite well, showing that Hitler was pretty crazy and ordered awful things to be done, but also showed how he treated the people he liked who were around him well. There is a line between Eva Braun and one of Hitler’s secretaries, Traudel, which works well at describing this duality:

Traudel: It seems he doesn’t want anyone to see inside him[… ]In private he can be such a caring person. But then he says such…brutal things.

Eva: When he’s the Fuhrer?

It simply shows that Hitler wasn’t this caricature of an evil person. He was just a person; a person that did a lot of terrible things, but still just a person, with good points and bad. By the end of it he was obviously sick and didn’t want to admit failure, and he probably has something not right mentally to make it seemingly so easy to just let people continue to die fighting over a lost war. It’s not an excuse for what he did, and I don’t necessarily feel sorry for him, but it was still a good, fairly balanced portrayal of him at that time in history.

 

By the time I finished watching this is was pretty emotionally drained to even think about watching any of the other suggestions, especially seeing it was Sunday before I could convince myself to watch this one. As it is I still dreamed of Jewish people trying to escape from people trying to capture them last night. The other films that were suggested were The Great Dictator (with Charlie Chaplin), Judgement at Nuremberg (which I was considering watching), The Reader, and Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. If watching things about the Nazis is your thing, maybe check those ones out. Next week is Miyazaki Week, so I am going to try reeeeeeeally hard to watch all five films. Because Miyazaki is great.

 

That Movie Book – Week Twenty Nine

Ok, So I know I haven’t been writing these for a while, but never fear, I am back and ready to… uh… give my vague opinions? Let’s do this! This week’s theme was “Serving Up A Platter Of Foodie Movies”. Food is an integral part of life that a lot of time I seem to take for granted. However, whenever I am really hungry or have a really good meal I start rambling on about how food is amazing. I love food so much, all the different things that can be done with food, all the amazing cuisines from various countries, why wouldn’t you enjoy and celebrate such a thing?

I know of a number of people who really only eat because they have to; if there was a magic future pill that gave you all the nutrients you needed so you didn’t have to eat they would use that in a heartbeat and not bother with cooking at all. It’s such a sad thing, because, like I said, food is amazing. There’s no way  I would give up butter or garlic or chicken or chocolate or anything else (apart from maybe capsicum) and replace it with a pill or a drink. No Way. Thankfully my metabolism is good enough at the moment to be able to eat whatever I want whenever I want, so I plan to do so with gusto.

And so, that brings us to the first movie I watched this week. Tampopo. This is a Japanese film about a truck driver who stops at a small Ramen shop and has some bad noodles. He then decides to help the Ramen Lady (Tampopo) learn to cook the best ramen around so that she gets more business and can support her son better.

I was pretty intent on watching this film this weekend. Ben didn’t really seem to care about it that much, but I insisted, figuring he could do something else while I watched it. I had forgotten, in my excitement for Japanese cinema, that Japanese movies are, in general, really fucking weird. The movie starts off with a Snazzy Guy and his Ladyfriend sitting down to watch a movie in a cinema with a fancy meal in front of them, where he makes a comment about how he hates being interrupted while watching movies so we (the people watching this) better be quiet. A bit weird way to start off, but nothing really out there. Then the Tampopo storyline started and away we go. But The film kept cutting away from that to show non sequitur types of scenes to do with food that just made no sense because I just wanted to know about Tampopo!

And there was always a weirdly sexual tone to them all. We see Snazzy Guy and Ladyfriend getting all kinky with their room service meals (twice, actually. There is a scene where they pass an egg yolk back and forth between their mouths as some kind of sexy foreplay that made me feel ill); A guy goes to the dentist to get a tooth extracted and the dental assistants were all being sexy to him afterwards, then he went and ate an ice cream in a park and gave it to a little kid to eat and that was made to look vaguely sexual as well; A man rushes home to his dying wife and yells at her to stay alive and make him a meal, she gets off her deathbed, cooks some rice for the family, then keels over while the husband continues to scarf down the food; A Japanese lady is trying to teach  the etiquette of eating spaghetti to some young ladies, but a fat Westerner is slurping away at his meal nearby so they all follow his lead and there are just constant shots of ladies messily eating pasta; and that’s only the ones I can remember off the top of my head. All these asides just made me stare at the screen and go “What is going onnnnnnn?!” repeatedly. I tried to just go with the flow and wait until it got back to Tampopo, but it was still really bizarre and wished things would get back to normal.

The whole tone of the film was kinda silly and it definitely didn’t take itself seriously, but Tampopo’s storyline was still a bit more realistic than those other scenes. I liked Tampopo’s story; it’s a pretty generic underdog working hard to get better at what they do to become The Best, but it was cute and not strangely disconcerting like the rest of it. I think I just need to watch more Japanese films to get used to the certain style they have so I don’t balk at weirdness.

 

On Sunday I watched Fast Food Nation. The film revolves around a fictional fast food company, Mickies, and the various people involved in it throughout the process of making their strongest-selling burger, the Big One.

I didn’t really care for this movie very much at all. The acting was ok, the story not entirely unbelievable (although all the things happening at one place felt like a bit of a stretch), but it wasn’t enough to grab my attention and make me care about it. I think maybe the execution could have been better. It looked older than it was (it had a vaguely late-90s feel to it, even though it was made in 2006) and the picture quality wasn’t great either, making it look cheaply made. It might have been the quality of the version I had more than the actual film itself, but I felt like it was trying to go for the fake documentary style and just missing the mark a little.

Plus, the messages were pretty hamfisted. I kept rolling my eyes at some of the scenes because the dialogue was was very obviously trying to be subtle about how big corporations are evil, but at the same time failing at that miserably. Also, near the end of the film when some people are walking through the ‘Kill Room’ at the meat processing plant, there was a montage where you just watched cows get killed and skinned and chopped up and gutted. As if repeatedly mentioning the kill room wasn’t a big enough hint, I think we got the point about how the place was awful. No need to keep showing us how these places are awful and killing poor dumb cows is a terrible gruesome job. We get it. Move on.

Honestly, this movie just made me want to go rewatch Super Size Me. It took me the length of the film to remember that name, because I realised that all this talk of fast food being terrible reminded me that I hadn’t seen Super Size Me since it first came out in cinemas and that I should probably watch it again.

 

So Yeah. Two films, one about how food is complex and affects all parts of life and should be revered and the other about how it can be used as a reason to exploit people and make them do not very nice things.

The other suggestions this week were Chocolat, Pieces of April, and Big Night. Next week’s theme is about all about Nazis, so it might be a short one, if I end up writing something at all. Maybe I’ll just intersperse the post with pictures of Kitler to lighten the tone.

That Movie Book – Week Twenty Five

This week’s theme was “Play It Again, Sam: remakes that are better than the original”. Last week’s theme about being royalty was a bit of a non-event seeing as I was on holiday when I would normally be typing things up, so I moved on to this one instead. Remakes are becoming such a common occurrence these days that it’s becoming old hat. Most of the time you just roll your eyes and mutter about lazy filmmaking, but sometimes a remake is done that is, dare I say it, better than expected.

Unfortunately for me, computer issues (which I’m blaming Ben for, seeing as he touched my computer last) means I only watched one film from this week, and it was one that I had seen many times before. I was planning on watching one I hadn’t seen on Sunday, but instead I’m on an old Macbook that whirs ferociously out of the blue and all my movie collection is on the second (thankfully/hopefully fine) hard drive in my box that won’t start up. I am getting withdrawals already; our dvd collection has nowhere near enough trashy entertainment to meet my needs.

So, when I did end up watching was Ocean’s Eleven. Danny Ocean gets out of jail and decides to rob three of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas. To do this he needs to gather associates to help pull the heist off (the ‘Eleven’ in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’) and hope that everything goes according to plan.

 

I just want to say straight up that I really like this movie. The sequels I didn’t like as much, but this one is probably up there on my list of Films I Like Quite A Bit. I am pretty sure it was one of the first films that I wanted to watch multiple times (that wasn’t a kid’s movie) to catch things I missed. I feel like I should watch the original to compare, but I don’t think I would enjoy it as much as I might have if I hadn’t seen the remake.

From what I can remember, this was one of those films that my brother got a little obsessed about and decided he (and by extension, I) needed to watch it. Maybe he secretly wanted to be like George Clooney, who knows? Whatever the reason I probably wasn’t overly enthusiastic to watch it. My brother and I have some similarities in our tastes, but it seems that most of the time he insists I watch something I am not that fussed about it. But I guess this was one of those times where our tastes match up.

I think this version just has a consistent feel to it that I really like. The soundtrack, the costumes, the actors, the sets, all work well and play off each other to create a well-balanced theme to te film. Everyone’s a little weird and sleazy and everything’s a little too shiny and bright, it just makes up the (probably cliched) image of Las Vegas nicely.

That’s not saying I don’t dislike some parts of it. Don Cheadle’s cockney accent is fucking appalling. I hope he is embarrassed by it because it was so terrible that I couldn’t help but laugh at it. Was it imperative to the story that Basher had to be British? If so couldn’t they have gotten a British actor to play the role and not have it be less of a terrible fake cockney accent? Also, Julia Roberts as Mrs Ocean? Whenever she walked anywhere she just clomped along like she was wearing high heels for the first time. There are so many other people out there who could look sexy and confident and strong willed without being Julia Roberts. This dislike for her is probably also fuelled by the fact that in one of the sequels the other characters mention how much Tess looked like Julia Roberts and get her to “pretend” to be her so they can sneak into an art gallery. Ham. Fisted. Comedy. Like I said, the sequels were kinda shitty.

So yeah, I liked the film I watched this week. But I also knew I was going to like it, so I feel a bit lazy. I should be expanding my horizons, not sticking with comfortable options. The other suggestions were Scarface (which I was intending on watching before this whole computer fiasco), The Man Who Knew Too Much, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and 3:10 To Yuma.