Tagged: Art Film

Review: Estonian Experimental Indie Film Metáfora

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Metáfora (English: “Metaphor) opens with a gorgeous black and white shot of the moon, fading out to classical music and a narrating voice over. It is hard to summarize the film’s plot, mostly because there isn’t any actual plot in the traditional sense of the word or at least from what we are used to in 99% of the films we watch. Metáfora chooses to be the odd 1% of cinematic experiences that decides to take an alternative narrative approach and subvert the viewer’s expectations. But to what effect?  Continue reading

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Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960)

La Dolce Vita (1960)
Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) is a paparazzo journalist drifting through Rome, trying to catch the latest scoop and make a living with a job that doesn’t entirely satisfy him. As an aspiring, but rather uninspired writer, he finds himself thorn between what he would love to do, but can’t and what pays the rent. While his job can be exciting and thrilling, he gets to meet celebrities and visit all kinds of places, he just seems to be bored with all the shallow mundanity and the emptiness of the words he writes. On the surface he has no reason to feel this way: He has a steady job that pays well, his girlfriend seems to genuinely care for him, he has many friends and knows all the right people. However something is missing in his life. Nothing feels real. It’s all a big circus with and when the night is over and the sun rises over the Roman hills he is alone, misunderstood and lost.  Continue reading

Five Reasons: Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970)

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Welcome to another edition of Five Reasons, where I give you five very valid reasons to check out a film if you still need some convincing. If you have seen the film you get to peek inside my brain and find out why I love the movie so much. If you’re okay with peeking inside my brain, because there is all kinds of crazy shit going on there. Moving on: Here are five reasons why I highly recommend checking out Werner Herzog’s 1970 art film Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen, which is just one of his many masterpieces.  Continue reading

Large-Scale Bullshit

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I hear a lot of talk about “large scale”, big movies, HUGE stakes, as opposed to small films. Usually by that people mean big budget vs. art house, Hollywood vs. independent and so on. With the advent of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) and the decreasing cost of better and more realistic digital effects, studio tent-poles have become animated pictures with some humans here and there. Is it about the humans anymore? I don’t know. It seems to me, it’s all about extreme spectacle, in terms of “how much can we destroy?”. What I’ve noticed is that people tend to confuse the “size” of the film with the meaning of the story.

Hollywood studio films have always been about size: The bigger the better. Big A-list stars, big productions, huge sets (or green screens) and even long runtimes – Is that automatically a bad thing? Of course not. I’m trying to say indies are better than corporate products or anything like that, although my vocabulary certainly betrays some bias! There are good films in both camps, that’s not even worthy of discussion we all should know that by now. Yes, there’s also good films from every country and every decade of cinema. Moving on, the “problem” I’ve noticed is that people tend to mistake the commercial stature of a picture or the amount of CGI related destruction involved with its greatness in terms of themes.

Superhero films are all the rage these days, they’re everywhere it’s only a matter of time before people will be sick of them and wonder how they almost exclusively enjoyed consuming those for the past decade or so. Okay, it seems to be a long-term trend, but I hope people will get tired of those comic book adaptations and stop taking them so seriously already: It’s ridiculous. Anyway, the real issue is that these people tend to see “smaller” independent films as irrelevant or uninteresting, because they are not “big”. Okay, maybe an art house film won’t show you a metropolis get invaded by aliens or destroyed by whatever cartoony malevolent force, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be big, just maybe in other ways. Blockbusters are about big explosions and action set pieces. If you asked people who like them what they are about thematically they probably could tell you, but that’s not what most of them are interested in.

Movies are about entertainment, they are considered the most “accessible” art form (although that’s debatable) and I’m not saying a film that is “just” entertaining is bad or has no right to exist. To me however a “good” film, one that I would consider to be on my favorites list, should have something more than that, something deeper. I don’t feel like any of these summer blockbusters are that deep. Mostly whatever message they have is watered down, diluted and tailor fit for the masses. Everyone can see it, it’s that obvious, oh and don’t forget people abroad have to “get it” as well, because now American films have to appeal to China and Russia and Brazil and all those great new markets, so the simplification is taken to a whole new level.

Aside from that, most of these gigantic, bombastic movies forget that one of the most important thing are the characters: The human element. People need to be able to connect to the film otherwise they won’t feel anything. A shortcut to that are character archetypes and a very “emotional” orchestral score. That’s fine and well if you like being manipulated, but it’s also empty and shallow. More interesting to me are character pieces, films about a single human beings life. To me a film about the human experience and human nature is the biggest possible in terms of emotions, feelings and themes. There is no need for those characters to save humanity or similar silly and unrealistic plot devices to discuss life. A Werner Herzog documentary on death row will affect me more deeply and inspire me to think more than any Avengers film, besides also having a more cinematic feel and aesthetic.

You can agree or disagree, but it’s the same basic idea of journalism. Reports about millions of deaths are sadly irrelevant to us, but if you show a single human being or a family and their tragedy or loss we are suddenly able to relate and understand. That is precisely why people are dissatisfied with how some films portray the destruction of entire cities. Aside from the unrealistic fact that not many people die, most of those people are faceless. Oh, and remember we are talking about PG-13 films, which honestly every time I see that rating for an action film I will just assume it’s going to be unrealistic, because if buildings were to collapse on people in real life they would fucking die.
So if you want a movie that is genuinely big you have to earn it, and the way to do it is by “scaling down”. Make it about the superhero, make it introspective, but most of all be honest. If a city is destroyed people die, deal with it. It might not be pretty to look at, but you’re the one that wanted to destroy cities, so now face your consequences. It seems to me people are afraid of dealing with real emotion and so they hide behind preposterous conceits and spandex.

Again, this whole discourse may sound like me taking a dump on blockbusters, but I’m actually not opposed to them. I do enjoy some of those movies, especially the ones from action auteurs such as Bay, Snyder or Emmerich because if anything they distinguish themselves visually. What I dislike are generic looking rip-offs of those directors that somehow, for whatever absurd reason, have the feeling they’re better. It is regrettable that what cinema has come to these days is sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots, but that’s the way things are. It’s all about brand loyalty, and certainly there’s a similar aspect in the auteur world as well, because films are “risky” goods for costumers who don’t know what they’re going to get, but I feel that some movie goers could benefit from expanding their horizons a little bit.
I hear a lot of complaints from mainstream movie goers that there aren’t many good movies coming out lately, but of course if you only watch a certain type of movies you’re going to run out of stuff to watch pretty soon. Try and watching films you wouldn’t normally watch and who knows they might surprise you and don’t give me any of that large-scale bullshit.

‘Meh’ Movies You Watched Last Week?

No introductions. Two movies to discuss. Let’s get right into it, you know the drill.

The Lorax (2012) – 6 (IMDb 6.3) – Animation, Family (USA)
The Lorax is an animated film based on the novel by Dr. Seuss. From what I’ve heard the film is not very faithful to its source material. Who cares really as long as the movie is good, right? Well, the film is not that great. Not bad either, that is if you’re a kid. What it is, is basically an environmentalist cautionary tale: If you chop off all the trees for your greedy profit-making industry, one day there might not be any left. Then you’ll have to pay to breathe fresh air, which is almost what’s happening right now to us. Some people still don’t realize this, anyway, let’s not get political. The film is okay, colorful designs and a funny Danny DeVito as the Lorax. In a way though the story, as presented on-screen, doesn’t need the Lorax character. Goofy main character, wacky songs à la Disney and Despicable Me minions rip offs (which now seems the standard thing to do, look at Hop, no wait scratch that: DON’T watch that movie). Fun fact: DeVito did the voice-overs for Lorax in Russian, German, Spanish and Italian too. There are some funny clips on YouTube. Actually, those are more worthwhile now that I think of it.

Stellet Licht (2007) – 6 (IMDb 7.1) – Drama (Mexico)
I don’t like the way this film was shot. They’re trying too hard to make it look good, but the lens they use distorts the image and just doesn’t look as cool as they might have thought. The film is deliberately slow-paced, though with no payoff, and I like a good contemplative picture, but I’m not sure why they’d go for that here. All my spider senses seem to indicate that they were trying to make a by the numbers art house film. It’s like they were thinking: “What makes an indie film?” So they did a little brainstorming, compiled a to-do list. All right: Distinctive visuals, slow-moving story, characters cheating, some spirituality thrown in there, long takes and interminable silence of course. Okay, let’s do this thing! No, it doesn’t work like that I’m afraid. You have to have something to say, something that hasn’t been said before, otherwise your film is just a copycat. Now, it may seem like I’m making fun of this film, but I do love art house cinema, so I can’t really hate this one, but I can’t say that it’s a masterpiece either.

That’s all for ‘meh’ films. Did you watch any films that were ‘just okay’ this past week? Tell me about it!

Lukas Moodysson’s Container (2006)

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Container is “a silent movie with sound”, according to Swedish director Lukas Moodysson. The film does not have a traditional three-act structure or any recognizable narrative. The visuals are only loosely related the monologue read by American actress Jena Malone. It’s more of an experimental/avant-garde/art film intended to elicit a certain kind of feelings, or no feelings at all. Someone described it as an “open letter to God”. Knowing Moodysson’s strong Christian beliefs I would have to agree: The voice over repeatedly mentions themes and images pertaining to Christianity. Just like Moodysson’s other films it is also about celebrity and pop culture, consumerism and the horrors of civilization, namely the Second World War and Chernobyl’s catastrophic nuclear accident.  Continue reading