Three-sentence Inglourious Basterds review August 21, 2009Posted by Evil Bender in arts and culture, Film.
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Quentin Tarantino loves movies. Watching his movies reminds rekindles my love of movies. Inglourious Basterds is no exception, and has bonus killing of Nazis.
[Bonus 4th sentence: Highly Recommended, and not for the faint of heart.]
Are summer blockbusters too long? July 4, 2009Posted by Evil Bender in arts and culture, Film.
I went to see Public Enemies last night…the movie just seems way too long.
This is, it seems to me, a surprisingly common problem with would-be summer blockbusters. And it’s a problem I have a lot of trouble understanding. After all, movie studios would seem to have a strong incentive to make movies shorter. With a shorter movie, you should be able to pack more showings into a given day and sell more tickets and popcorn and such. And yet I feel like it’s way more common to walk out of a theater feeling that a movie was too long than to walk out feeling like I wished there’d been 15 more minutes. I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. So what’s going on?
I don’t think the problem is actually the length of movies is the problem, but rather the choices of what to include. I didn’t walk out of the 150-minute Dark Knight wishing it had been over sooner, but Year One, felt agonizingly long at 100 minutes.* Public Enemies did drag, despite excellent performances, because too much of the film seems unnecessary: there are several scenes in the film that just aren’t that compelling.
It’s easy to name an excellent long film and contrast it to a terrible short film to make this point, but I think there’s something larger at work: part of what makes a movie excellent is that you don’t feel like there is lots of unnecessary filler. If you’re consistently entertained, then the film will seem well timed at 90 minutes or 160. If you’re bored (which happens either because the film is terrible or because at least some sections of it aren’t compelling) then the film will feel too long.
So my interpretation is that a film only becomes “too long” when it no longer holds its audience’s attention. Comedies which fall in the third act, “thrillers” which drag in the middle, and action films whose plot dawdles are all examples of “too long” films, while length matters almost not at all to a film that’s working. Watching the flop Grindhouse in the theater I had one of the best movie-going experiences of my life despite (or perhaps because of) its double-feature length, and the few others in the 11:45 PM showing seemed to agree. Most others didn’t, and the film bombed.
Personal experience isn’t the only datum to suggest this interpretation. A glance at the top-grossing films of all time suggests that audiences will happily sit through long movies when they’re entertained, and that making a film that clocks in at the now-standard 115 minutes isn’t necessarily a better choice.
The last two films I’ve seen, Public Enemies and the odious Transformers 2: Racism and Robot Balls, both stretch a little story into a long film. In Public Enemies, we tolerate some of that due to some quality film making, but eventually the movie drags. In Transformers, the entire first act is a complete waste, and so even the (pretty cool) robot fights in the last half-hour seem like agony, because I was too bored and offended by that point to really appreciate them. If Bay was a smarter film-maker, he would have brought us to the action much more quickly. If the film was 90 minutes, it would have at least been tolerable.
If Hollywood wants to avoid lengthy films that unnecessarily drain the box-office, they should encourage their directors to be better editors of their own films.
As a side note, this theory also explains, I think, why the best films’ deleted scenes aren’t generally compelling. Watch the deleted scenes in Reservoir Dogs, if you haven’t done so, and it’s clear why they were cut. The film feels perfect at its length, and the deleted scenes don’t add anything important. Some deleted scenes are interesting on their own merits, and some directors over-cut their films, leaving key information out of the narrative and making the film incoherent. But the more deleted scenes seem to add to a film, or the more that scenes in the film should have been deleted, the more likely it is the film is going to feel the wrong length, and that it won’t work.
*I saw Year One for free, and still felt I’d overpaid.
Evil Bender’s Top 10 Buffy Moments March 22, 2009Posted by Evil Bender in arts and culture, Blogging.
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LQ and I just finished watching the entirety of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. I’d seen the whole thing before, but it was LQ’s first time through.
Rewatching the series was a real pleasure, and more than justified my decision to own the entire thing on DVD. Buffy remains my favorite dramatic series in TV history. Which brings me to the topic of this post: the most memorably Buffy moments of all time (I thought about calling them my favorite moments, but many of them are actually hard to watch: they’re just incredibly well executed, so “memorable” it is). These are, of course, purely subjective, and I hope you’ll leave yours in the comments. SPOILERS below the fold.
How not to write a movie review: Watchmen edition March 2, 2009Posted by Evil Bender in arts and culture, Comics, Watchmen.
To be absolutely clear: I have no idea whether Watchmen will be a good film. Zach Snyder hasn’t convinced me he has anything to say behind his visual sensibility, and I have lots of reasons to think that the film might fail.
But I’m absolutely certain that if Watchman is a disaster, it isn’t for the reasons laid out in this horrible review. It seems Anthony Lane doesn’t like the film, but wants to be absolutely clear that he Knows His Comic Books. Otherwise, why include the embarrassing-attempt-at-street-cred-slash-opening-salvo?
The world of the graphic novel is a curious one. For every masterwork, such as “Persepolis” or “Maus,” there seem to be shelves of cod mythology and rainy dystopias, patrolled by rock-jawed heroes and their melon-breasted sidekicks.
Comic book fans will know that mentioning Maus is a requirement for anyone wishing to demonstrate that they Really Understand Comics. Persepolis is a close second in this regard.*
Having now established that he is a Serious Person Who Should Be Taken Seriously, Lane proceeds to make silly mistakes (i.e. mocking one character for being a ripoff of Batman when that was precisely the idea, as anyone familiar with the material should surely know), and stumbles his way through a few potentially valid criticisms, to end on what might be the single most embarrassing line from any review I’ve ever read:
Incoherent, overblown, and grimy with misogyny, “Watchmen” marks the final demolition of the comic strip, and it leaves you wondering: where did the comedy go?
I can’t wait until Lane explains a) how a film could be a “demolition of the comic strip” (any more than claiming that Cruel Intentions marks the destruction of the novel) or b) why he expects his film-criticism-turned-amateur-hour-comics-criticism to be taken seriously when, for all his posturing, he clearly indicates to understand comic books every bit as well as the bitter man at the poetry reading, objecting that “real” poetry rhymes.
But I suppose we should suspect nothing less from a man who thinks the description “not quite as enjoyable as tripping over barbed wire and falling nose first into a nettle patch”** is either an enlightening or clever descriptor.
*Both laudable works, mind, but Lane’s rhetorical move here is the equivalent of starting a review of a metatextual film by assuring the audience that you have indeed seen Citizen Kane.
**That’s Lane’s recap of V for Vendetta, a review which tells us nothign about the film, and far too much about Lane’s sense of humor.
[Update: fixed typo.]
Where Comic Books meet “Conservative Film Criticism” February 17, 2009Posted by Evil Bender in arts and culture, Comics, Film, Humor, wingnuts.
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Watchmen SPOILERS below the fold.
This comment at Yglesias’ place just Won The Internet:
Thoughts on Oscar Nominees January 22, 2009Posted by Evil Bender in arts and culture, Blogging.
The Oscar nominees have been announced, and I’ll throw my two cents in. As usual, since I live in film wasteland and have to travel 60 miles or more to catch most nominated films, I haven’t seen many of this years nominees, but a few things stand out to me.
Some SPOILERS below.
River Tam: not a “sad attempt at feminism” September 3, 2008Posted by Evil Bender in arts and culture, feminism.
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Despite River’s inherent ass-kicking abilities, she rarely uses them to the benefit of the crew. The character has been driven insane by her experiences, and therefore she spends most of her time saying crazy things and throwing up in her brother’s bed.
In fact, protecting River forms the backbone of no less than five out of thirteen episodes, plus the theatrical movie. That’s an awful lot of rescuing for a feminist hero.
First of all, there’s absolutely no way that Joss Whedon meant her to be a feminist hero. As one of the Feministing commenters pointed out, his characters are about more than being archetypes, after all, and if we were forced to label one of the characters in Firefly as a feminist hero, it would no doubt be the cool, tough, smart and totally sexually empowered Zoe, not the abused and damaged River.
But that misses the bigger picture, which is that River’s story is about overcoming the damage that’s been done to her. While the crew does save her on more than one occasion, she also saves them repeatedly, against desperate odds–all while appearing to be a crazy, “helpless” woman. That’s pretty kick-ass, and I could think of many worse Hollywood role models for young women than River. River’s inner strength, along with the support of her friends, helps her overcome even the horrific violence of her past and save the day. If Joss Whedon has one consistent message it’s that the good gals and guys can win with dedication and devotion to each other. That seems pretty empowering to me.
Look, Hollywood has an abundance of terrible faux-feminist characters, and Joss Whedon has his own issues (less than stellar portrayals of people of color, for instance). But River Tam ain’t one of them.
PS: River’s a failed attempt at a Feminist hero, and Buffy is responsible for women abandoning the Church–seems poor Joss is being blamed for a lot these days!
PPS [And Buffy-related spoiler]:
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The gift that keeps on giving, Chuck Norris at WingNutDaily, is busy telling people to avoid The Golden Compass because of what Focus on the Family says about Phillip Pullman. He even links to the SFGate article I mentioned here as an example of liberal bias in the media, though of course he does not refute any of it’s claims. What’s the matter, Chuck? Are you afraid he might be right? Is your faith so shaky that a work of fiction can shake it? Or are you just afraid that ideas might get kids thinking for themselves?
My favorite part:
I respect artistic ability and one’s right to freedom of speech, religion and creativity, but that does not mean I or millions of others have to agree with or tolerate it. It is also my American right to say, “My name is Chuck Norris, and I disapprove of this movie.” And it’s also others’ rights to not frequent a theater showing it.
If Chuck were being honest, I could agree with that. It’s absolutely his right to look like a panicky idiot in the face of disagreement. He totally has the right to freak out about a movie aimed a children before he’s even seen it. I support his right to make a fool of himself in public–hell, it provides me with endless amusement.
Unfortunately for ol’ Chuck, his very next paragraph shows him to be a liar:
Midweek Music: poetry edition June 20, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in arts and culture, Poetry.
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I generally leave the music posts for The Lizard Queen, who’s musical knowledge surpasses mine by several orders of magnitude. But I couldn’t help but note Loreena McKennitt putting Yeats’ “The Stolen Child” to music:
I doubt that any English-language poet from the last century has had more of a gift for making rhyme and rhythm seem natural, and no one best Yeats at the great standard of rhyme proposed by Frost: in a good rhyme, the reader should not be able to tell which word was chosen first and which chosen because it rhymes.
McKennitt captures that aspect of his poetry brilliantly.
Midweek poetry: Rilke’s “Love Song” June 20, 2007Posted by Evil Bender in arts and culture, Poetry.
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posted for l, with love.
How shall I hold on to my soul, so that
it does not touch yours? How shall I lift
it gently up over you on to other things?
I would so very much like to tuck it away
among long lost objects in the dark
in some quiet unknown place, somewhere
which remains motionless when your depths resound.
And yet everything which touches us, you and me,
takes us together like a single bow,
drawing out from two strings but one voice.
On which instrument are we strung?
And which violinist holds us in the hand?
O sweetest of songs.