Friday, October 29, 2004

The Marriage of Maria Braun

This week for class I had to watch the movie, The Marriage of Maria Braun. I actually had to watch for class last year too, so clearly it's the movie of choice for film scholars. Lately I've been watching a ton of foreign films, be it in German film class, or on my own with Wong Kar Wai's stuff and Cowboy Bebop. Well, this movie was foreign too, and it was great.

The movie's about a woman in post WWII Germany. Her husband is missing, presumed dead, and she has to go on with her life. It's a huge movie, spanning ten years, with a bunch of characters and subplots, which I love. The opening sequence is one of the most pop openings ever, especially impressive considering it's a film made in the 70s. It opens on a picture of Hitler which blown away, along with the wall it's hung on, revealing Maria getting married as the city is being bombed, papers flying in the air, buildings falling to the ground.

What makes the movie work is the direction. Fassbinder uses color brilliantly, and can expertly manipulate mood with his filmmaking. The movie feels extremely modern, despite being set in the 40s and made in the 70s. The story of the film is great, but it's the filmmaking that makes it a really special movie.

I've had to watch a lot of Fassbinder's movies for class, and this is easily the best of them. What this has that his previous movies didn't is scope. The personal relationships aren't that far removed from a movie like The Merchant of Four Seasons, but the difference is that this movie is set in a time of turmoil. When Maria seduces Oswald, it's not about feelings, it's about trying to survive. The entire movie is about seeing people dehumanized, forced to resort to their basest instincts in order to survive.

Just as the opening sequence is incredibly pop, the closing is too. This movie ends in such a way that you're sitting there just dazed, considering the implications of the ending. Any movie that leaves you so confused, not about what happened plotwise, but about what exactly motivated the characters to do it is worth watching. I'd rather be left thinking after a movie is over then having everything tied up perfectly neatly.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Movie is to food as...

So, a while ago I was talking with Jordan, about movies, and he was saying something about how occasionally you just need a dumb movie, you can't always watch really high quality stuff. This prompted a lengthy discussion, in which I compared movies to food, the gist of which I'll replicate here.

Movies are like food, in that there are so many levels of quality, different types of food/movies, different ways to prepare and different ways to enjoy the movie/food. From a movie, you can get a bag of chips, which fills you up, but leaves you greasy and sort of nasty, a decent meal, or a gourmet dinner, with many courses, of impeccabe quality, the kind of meal that makes you think I've never even eaten before.

A good chunk of Hollywood movies fall into the bag of chips/fast food category. They're all basically the same, and you go in knowing what to expect. If you go to see Adam Sandler in a movie, it's like buying a bag of chips, you know exactly what you're going to get, there's no surprises, and it doesn't really fill you up. Most romantic comedies fall into this category too, very formulaic, the fast food of the movie world. Also, any Arnold/Van Damme/Stallone/Diesel type action movie falls into this category, just empty calories.
A movie like Love Actually works because it is like a buffet of fast food, you get a taste of many different foods, you're bound to find something you like. By giving you this variety, you're bound to find something you like, and the formulaic nature of some of the foods/plots is undermined by the fact that you're not only eating that one food. So, that's the bag of chips. you know what to expect, you're not surprised. Unfortunately, the vast majority of filmgoers prefer the bag of chips or fast food to a more filling meal. If you keep eating/watching this stuff, eventually you get a lot of fat on your mind, that's what happens when you don't exercise your mind.

Then, there's decent meal, maybe a diner type place. This is a movie that's pretty good, you leave fulfilled, something like Toy Story or Collateral. There's actual character development, a good story is told, and you leave the theater full. This isn't the kind of restaurant you'd neccessarily reccomend to your friends, but if it came up in conversation, you'd give it a good word. I'm usually satisfied with a meal/movie like this.

However, what any filmgoer lives for is the gourmet meal, the filet mingon of movies, something expertly prepared, with the best ingredients, and incredible presentation. When I hear that one of my favorite chefs has completed a new dish, I salivate, wondering what culinary delights have been prepared. This is the kind of meal that you tell your friends about, and if you have a dinner party, these would hopefully be the main dish. What are some gourmet meals? Magnolia is kind of my archetypal example. It's got all kinds of ingredients, brilliantly mixed together by master chef Paul Thomas Anderson. If you hang out with me for long enough, I've probably tried to serve you Magnolia at one time or another. The best meals compel you to share them with others. These are the meals that even if they aren't always to your taste, you still respect the effort put into making them.

Now, getting to the two flaws of the metaphor. One is, it costs you the same amount and takes the same amount of time to watch a great movie as it does to watch a bad one, which just isn't true of meals. It costs a lot more to go to a five star restaurant than to McDonald's. With movies you don't have that excuse. I understand that it's sometimes tough to get up for a movie like Requeim for a Dream, but it's so much more satisfying after you do watch it. So, no excuses for watching bad movies. One of the things that bothers me the most is people watching a movie that they know is not going to be any better than OK, when there's so many great ones out there.

What's the other flaw? Ironically, in food, I'm not really a fan of the gourmet meal.But, that's because I'm passionate about movies, and not about food. So, I can get people not liking the gourmet movie, it's unfortunate that they don't have the taste, but a food afficianado would probably be just as mad at me for not appreciating some higher cuisine.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Twin Peaks

I wrote this back in May 2004, which was nearly a year after I finished the series. Twin Peaks is the best TV series of all time, you should all see it. And a side note, I'd point you to the entry on the side marked "Does liking something that's popular make you uncool?" You be the judge.

In terms of TV, Twin Peaks is definitely my favorite series. Just hearing the music and seeing the bird in the opening credits, it brings up so many emotions and associations. Similarly, seeing the sign and hearing the music in Fire Walk With Me, it’s like going home. Even though there’s a number of weak plots, the series on the whole just has an atmosphere completely its own. The music, the look of it, it’s unparalleled. And then the red room, the last episode is my favorite episode of TV ever, and my favorite David Lynch work. Similarly, with each viewing, Fire Walk With Me just gets better and better. The emotion in the film, coupled with the weird visuals, it’s exactly the sort of film I want to make. The last scenes are amazing brutal, but also beautiful. That juxtaposition is what makes Lynch’s work so unique. The first time I watched Fire Walk With Me, I was a bit disappointed by the opening sequence, which seemed completely pointless, but in recent times, I’m loving even that. The whole work is such a bold direction to take what could have been a formulaic TV movie. The ending brings everything full circle, and provides great emotional closure to the series. Though, I’m still annoyed at the series ending cliffhanger. The first time I watched it, I sat just staring at the TV for five minutes. I had read that it was a two hour series finale, so I was expecting another hour, when the tape ended, I was just in shock, and completely devastated, but also in awe of the episode I had just watched. It was one of the most affecting stories I’ve ever experienced.

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Cowboy Bebop: A Rockin' Show

So, recently I watched the show Cowboy Bebop. It's an anime, and I'm not usually a huge fan of anime, the high voices bother me, but luckily, there was only one character with an annoying voice on the show, and they acknowledged how annoying she was.

I loved the show because it had an amazing sense of style, combining Western, noir, sci-fi and action tropes into, what the show itself calls, "the show that will became a genre unto itself." It had a mainly standalone, episodic structure, which bothers me in somethings, but worked here. The reason for that is despite the fact that most of the plots were standalone, they still did a good job of developing the characters. An episode like 'My Funny Valentine,' in which a man from Faye's past appears is a good example of something that showed us a great deal about her, in what was essentially a standalone story.

I particularly liked the way that the character relationships were handled, which was really subtly. By the last episode, we can feel how close they all are, even though they never say it. You know it's killing Jet to let Spike go, and it's killing Faye too, but they don't come out and say, "I really care about you, Spike, and I think you're making a mistake." Instead they keep things internal, and I think that's much more true to life. The final episode was one of the best finales I've ever seen, recalling the brilliance of the last episode of The Prisoner. The scene where Spike goes through the syndicate building wielding grenades and guns, to the tune of "The Real Folk Blues," was pure brilliance, and the final scene was absolutely brutal.

I still think the single most brilliant sequence is Spike falling out of the building in 'Ballad of Fallen Angels.' Cutting between his memories and his fall in a way I'd never seen before, they created something completely new. And the choice of music is what made an already great scene perfect. A truly phenomenal series.

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Buffy Season Seven critique

Originally found here.

The First sucked. The things that they mocked in previous years with Spike, and his really pompous speeches they did for real with The First. It did absolutely nothing, and other than in Conversations, wasn't very threatening. It was a good idea in theory, but they had nothing to fight, and nothing to interact with on the evil front.

And Caleb was a retread of Warren, but without any of the interesting pieces. He's the most black and white villain since the Master. Seven's villains are definitely a reaction to what happened in six. It's the biggest, most evil foes the show has ever had, but also completely without personality, as well as totally impotent. The first does very little to actually hurt the group and Caleb wasn't particularly interesting. I can debate some things, but I think The First was a total failure, and the only weak villain the show ever did. Each previous villain built on what had came before in some way, the First went nowhere new.

Also, Buffy/Spike. I love what's done with the characters, it's just we have to go through so much cliffhangery bullshit to get to the real content. First, Spike is insane, so he's not himself for a while, then he might be evil, then he's under the possession of The First. I felt manipulated about what was going on with the character. When they finally get around to the frank discussion of the last few episodes of the series, it's brilliant. Spike just sleeping with Buffy is one of the most touching scenes in the show's entire run, and shows how much both he and Buffy have grown. It's also a great contrast to their scenes in season six. And, of course the discussion between them in the finale is great.

Anya. Selfless is obviously brilliant, and her sacrifice for Andrew at the end of the series is great, but for most of the middle of the season, she's without purpose and not really developed. She doesn't have much of a reason to be hanging out with Buffy and gang, but when she does get the spotlight, it's great.

Andrew makes me laugh with every line he says, and singlehandedly kept me going through the Bring on the Night/Showtime era. I love what they do with the character, particularly in Storyteller, where the comic relief becomes very serious. I really felt for the character, and I did in Chosen when he's talking about Anya too. Though I may crack on season seven, Andrew is a bright spot, and his evolution is probably my favorite thing about the season.

And, I would agree with you that Buffy is the star of season seven, but I think that's too much of a departure from where the show had been since at least season three. By six, it's a completely ensemble show, as the musical shows, each of these people has their own plot, and over the course of the season, all the stories are developed. In season seven, the other characters are reduced to sidekicks, in a way that they hadn't been for a number of years, and it just doesn't feel right.

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