Laurelin's Light

Random Thoughts from a Confessed Film Snob

23 December 2009

Best Deconstruction of The Phantom Menace Ever

More than just your typical, pissy rant, this is a funny, well made, well edited, slightly offensive explanation of what went wrong with the execution of The Phantom Menace.

Not only does it vivisect the prequel(s), but it also does a great job of reminding us of just how great the original Star Wars movies were and why they worked so well. A great example is in part 6 or 7 of the review, where footage of Luke's energetic, enraged duel with Darth Vader at the end of Jedi is intercut with the bland, emotionless footage of Obi-Wan fighting Darth Maul.

Another highlight is in the first section, embedded below, in which average moviegoers are asked to describe characters from both trilogies (without resorting to appearance, job description, etc.) and after vividly describing characters from the original films, are unable to define the new characters in any meaningful way.

In the process, the reviewer also succeeds in proving what may be his main argument, which is that George Lucas really has no idea what makes a Star Wars film work.


02 October 2009


I thought it would never happen, but I am very glad that Roman Polanski has finally been re-arrested.
I have no patience for anyone who tries to rationalize letting Polanski off the hook for rape (statutory or otherwise), no matter how long ago it happened.


10 July 2009

Cemetery Junction

I know nothing about this film except that it is written/directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, which is enough to convince me that it will be brilliant.

23 February 2009

Not Watching the Oscars

This year, for the first time since I can remember, I will not be watching the Academy Award Ceremony.

The reason this is a big deal is that watching the Oscars was always a very big deal for me. I used to host Oscar parties to which I would invite 10-20 people (and then I would get very annoyed that they all insisted on talking while I was trying to listen to acceptance speeches from people they had never heard of). Even during the years when we were living here in Romania (where we are 10 hours ahead of PST) I would host similar parties and we would stay up all night watching movies and socializing until the telecast finally started around 4:00 in the morning (and then I would get annoyed that the Romanian broadcasters had live commentators speaking over the speeches, jokes and presenters).

I would never have dreamed of missing the ceremony for any reason. But that was then. This year I finally, officially, don't care.

There are a lot of reasons I don't care any more, none of which include a lapse of interest in film. If anything, I am more in love with the medium than ever before. The more I learn about film making, film makers and films which have been made, the more I appreciate the art. But that appreciation has helped me to understand that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has little interest in celebrating art, but has much interest in selling the idea that it celebrates art. Hollywood has always been about - and always will be about - making money. The Academy's members are all people who have earned obscene amounts of money making movies. The whole idea of the Oscar awards is to convince the rest of the world that they don't really care about earning obscene amounts of money, what they really care about is making great art (and they just happen to make obscene amounts of money along the way).

So the Academy gives awards not to the actual best films, but rather to the films which do the best job of convincing the world that Hollywood loves to make art. For example: this year's crop of "best" films includes two timely political dramas, a fantasy about the "realism" of India's poverty, a "cutting edge" director doing his take on Forrest Gump and a Holocaust drama with a twist. Those are the kind of movies which the Academy wants the huddled masses to look up at in awe and declare: "Hollywood really does strive to create art!"

The films don't even have to achieve artistic merit in order to be lauded, all they have to do strive for it. Benjamin Button fails miserably and yet it was honoured with 13 nominations(!) because it was so "ambitious". For a comprehensive deconstruction of that particular film you can read my critique which I began here and which I will continue in the near future, but I will add here that David Fincher , although viewed as "edgy" (i.e. not mainstream) has earned more than $1 billion for Hollywood over the past 20 years.
Milk actually deserves its nomination; it's a solid, well-crafted film by a gifted director.
Frost/Nixon is also a solid film, but it's not an exciting piece of art. And given the tight script and superb cast, what exactly did Ron Howard do to deserve a nomination? I don't think that anyone can argue with a straight face that Howard is one of our best directors. He's a journeyman. Given a good script, he'll deliver a good film, such as F/N or Apollo 13. Given a poor script he churn out The Da Vinci Code or The Grinch or A Beautiful Mind or Willow, etc.
Slumdog Millionaire
comes pretty close to succeeding, but it is based on an irreconcilable paradox. We're first asked to believe in the gritty realism of life in the Indian slums and then asked to accept a fairy tale ending. It seems chauvinistic that we are expected to accept that Latika can pass from a life of rape and abuse into "happily ever after" just because she finally found her true love and he just happens to be fabulously wealthy.

Which films do I think were the best artistic achievements of the year? Well, without getting into the more obscure titles which I enjoyed (I'll do that in a later post) and admitting that there are number of films which I have not had a chance to see yet (Synecdoche, New York, In Search of a Midnight Kiss), I would name four: The Wrestler, Wall-E, Frozen River and (yes, I'll say it) The Dark Knight. If these films are (as I would argue) better than the ones actually nominated, why were they not nominated? For exactly the reason I stated above. Hollywood needs the world to believe that it is first and foremost interested in creating art. It is never going to offer up a comic book movie or a cartoon as a poster child for "artists making art". And as for The Wrestler and Frozen River, at the time the nominations were made, each of those films had only earned about $10 million at the box office. That's chump change in Hollywood. The big five nominees all need to be movies the entire world has heard of, otherwise the Academy is not doing its job.

So which of the films is going to take home the gold tonight? I really don't care anymore.

(But if I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Slumdog.)

13 February 2009

"The People vs. George Lucas"

This films looks thoroughly entertaining. No matter what your feeling may be about George Lucas (and almost anyone who cares about film has an opinion about Darth Flannel), this looks like an interesting deconstruction of the cultural phenomenon that is Lucas.

Not only is the subject interesting, but the method in which the film is being crafted is intriguing. As can be seen from the trailer, director Alexandre Philippe professionally interviewed many people for the film: fans, critics, industry insiders, scholars. But he is also using fan-generated content in the film. On the official website, Philippe writes that he will be using equal parts professional film and amateur video in the final cut.

Right now he is accepting amateur submissions from anyone who has anything to say about Lucas.

(On a slight tangent, The People vs. George Lucas happens to feature an interview with my favorite critic, Glenn Kenny, who will also be featured in Stephen Soderbergh's upcoming The Girlfriend Experience, which was cast almost completely with non-actors.)


06 February 2009

Critique - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Pt. 1

Thirteen Oscar Nominations not withstanding, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a mess.

But before I dive into serious criticism, I want to share two snide thoughts which came to me while watching the film.

1) Was Benjamin uncircumcised eight days before he died?

2) If Benjamin aged backward and Daisy aged forward, shouldn't their daughter have aged sideways?

And - before we get serious - Jon Stewart's opinion of Benjamin Button:

So, what's my problem with the movie? There are quite a few actually, which I will divide up into three major categories, each with its own post: Benjamin's character itself, the inconsistency of the main conceit and the awkward storytelling structure.

Benjamin Button: Prick

As the protagonist of the film, it is natural for us to empathize with Benjamin and to subjectively see him as a positive character. But if we look closer at the choices he makes and at the way he treats other characters, we have to objectively admit that he is a bit of a scumbag.

Although I have moral problems with the act, I'm willing to overlook his visit to the brothel. After all, what young man has not made stupid decisions because of his libido?

But when he turned 18 he walked out on his family completely. He literally walked past his sister without even looking at her, let alone saying goodbye to her. He did not keep in contact with his family. He did not let them know where he was, how he was or if he was even alive. They could not even contact him to tell him that his adoptive father had died.

And it was not only his family whom he snubbed. He didn't bother to say goodbye to Daisy either; she had to come running after him.

Then he commences to take up with a married woman. We're supposed to believe that they fell in love with each other by staying up all night talking until dawn night after night. Which rings false for three reasons:
1) adultery is adultery is adultery and "falling in love" does not justify it,
2) if he was staying up all night every night and working all day on the tugboat when did he sleep?
3) what exactly were they talking about? She might have assumed that he was in his 60s, but he had no life stories to share with her and he certainly did not share his peculiar secret with her.

During the war, one of his shipmates states that he has been watching Benjamin and knows that he can trust him. He then promptly hands his life savings over to Benjamin (in case he doesn't make it through the war). But, having one character state that Button is a good man does not automatically make it so, especially since the only purpose which that particular scene served was to reveal that the unlucky redshirt was going to die in the very next scene.

Back from the war, Benjamin meets up with Daisy the Dancer again. And now she's hot to trot and anxious wants to spend the night with our hero. But he turns her down, which does not fit in with the character we have been watching for an hour and a half. He has no problem bedding whores and married women, but he won't touch an incredibly sexy dancer who wants him? I don't buy the argument that he cared too much about her to have a fling, since he did not care enough about her to say goodbye when he left, keep in touch while he was gone, or look her up when he returned.

Ok, time passes, stuff happens and Benjamin and Daisy finally end up together ("meeting in the middle" - *gag*). Then she finds out that she is pregnant, she has a baby, and Benjamin abandons them both. The film tries to sell this betrayal as an act of selflessness, but that's a simmering crock of shit. What is his excuse for leaving? He's growing too young? Please. As a father with growing children, I wish that I was growing younger so that I would have the energy to do all of the things my kids want to do. And if I happened to look as young as they did at some point in my life? Great! They might not be embarrassed to hang out with me when they are teenagers.

Because of how the film was sold, we the audience expected him to grow from an old man into a baby and since we knew this was going to happen, it was not a stretch for us to assume that Benjamin knew what his fate would be as well. But how could he? The "fact" that he was born with an old man's ailments and slowly grew out of them into a normal middle-aged man in no way necessitated that he would keep growing younger and eventually become a baby. For almost three hours the film had been trying to sell us the trite moral "You never know what's coming" and yet its dramatic turn is based on the assumption that Benjamin knew exactly what was coming.

But even if we allow that Benjamin knew his body was regressing, does that excuse his behaviour? If I were to desert my family and claim that it was because I knew I was getting old and I loved them too much to force them to take care of me 15 years from now (and, by the way, once I left them behind I was going to travel the earth and "be what I might have been"), no one would think I was being selfless. Benjamin was a deadbeat dad, pure and simple, a selfish prick.

Now, I have no problem with unpleasant protagonists; some great films have been made about unsavory characters (the title character in Barry Lyndon and Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood spring instantly to mind). The problem lies not in that Benjamin is selfish and spineless, but in that the movie pretends that he is not. We're told by a number of characters that he is a good man, but we never actually see it. And the film dares to have Daisy tell Benjamin that he was right to leave her, that she could never have "raised" him, too. (As if a 60 year old in the body of 16 year old needs raising.) That was the most offensive part of the film: having a neglected woman condoning the actions of the man who abandoned her to raise a toddler on her own.

(The next two sections of my critique should follow shortly.)

02 February 2009

Why I'm not going to see G.I. Joe

Sure, the costumes may look terrible and the CGI effects may look ridiculous and it may be directed by Stephen Sommers (who creates such trash as "The Mummy" and "Van Helsing"), but the main reason why I will be avoiding G.I. Joe: The Movie!! is because of this:

That is what the movie version of the Baroness looks like. Yes, Sienna Miller is beautiful, but what's that on her face!? Goggles? They sure aren't glasses. And the reason the Baroness was the only arch villain I ever had a crush on was because of her cute little librarian glasses.


There we go.

Deadly, sexy and SMART! What better combination could there be for a 12 year old geek? I was destined to love her.

(And I won't let Stephen Sommers take that away from me.)

Bonus: Other G.I. Joe geeks may be amused by this post from Chris's Invincible Super Blog, in which he deconstructs the character of Destro from the comic book.

25 January 2009

Free Online Movies!

I recently moved back to Romania with my family and since then, I have had a lot more time to work through my (seemingly endless) list of "Movies to Watch". Ironically, now that I have the time, I no longer have access to the films on the list (no Netflix here, nor any public libraries with comprehensive catalogues of classic films). So I have been scouring the internet for films and I stumbled upon this great site the other day.

It is part of the Internet Archive with digital files of over 1,500 public domain films.
Granted, a lot of public domain films are hopelessly schlocky or outdated, but there are quite a few gems to be found in there as well.

Here is just a small sample:


15 January 2009

Number 6 Has Finally Escaped the Village

"I am not a number! I am a free man"

Patrick McGoohan, 1928-2009

Edit: Clicking on the above quote will now take you to the AMC TV site, which is currently streaming every episode of "The Prisoner" for free.


14 January 2009

Review - Timecrimes

It's not often that you come across a time travel movie which adheres to Novikov's self-consistency principle of time travel. (Novikov's principle states that if you could travel back in time, the probability that you could change the past or create a paradox would always be zero.) Indeed, most movies of this genre thrive on ignoring Novikov, creating "drama" by allowing characters to meddle with past events, which then changes the future or even creates alternate realities.

Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo, however, fully embraces Novikov in his brilliant feature debut, "Timecrimes" ("Los Cronocrimenes") and crafts what is probably the most intelligectually satisfying time travel film ever made.

Making a time travel movie which actually makes logical sense is achievement enough, but Vagalondo doesn't stop there. "Timecrimes" is also a gripping psychological thriller, in which the audience's sympathies shift from one character to another to another as the film progresses and we see the same events over and over again from different points of view.

In some of the film's press material, it is compared with Kurusawa's "Rashomon", which is probably the worst comparison which could be made and reveals a thorough misunderstanding of both films. "Rashomon" is a film about the slippery nature of the truth and how we can never know exactly what happened in the past simply be hearing different people's perspectives. Things will always be remembered differently or understood differently or retold differently based on the point of view of the witness. In comparison, "Timecrimes" is a film about the permanence and immutability of events in time. We may understand and appreciate events differently depending on our frame of reference, but those events still occured (and always will have occured) in a concrete, objective way.

"Timecrimes" begins with a middle-aged couple, Hector and Clara, moving in to their new home in the woods. Hector takes a break from working and sits back and explores the land around him with a pair of binoculars.

Hector first notices a strange silo off in the distance and then he thinks that he sees someone moving in the wooded hills overlooking his yard.

Upon further examination, he locates a girl with red pants and a white t-shirt standing in the woods and looking off to one side (at whom or what?). Suddenly she begins to take her shirt off.

Suddenly Clara interrupts him to tell him she is going into town. Once Clara has gone, Hector is unable to locate the woman again, although he does catch sight of her red pants lying bunched up on the ground. Intrigued, he goes exploring. Hector does find the woman, but he is immediately attacked by a man wrapped up in bloodied bandages wielding a pair of sharp scissors.

Hector runs wildly off into the woods and seeks shelter at a laboratory he find there. It is there at the laboratory that time travel enters the story. Hector is sent an hour back in time and by re-experiencing the strange events which occurred during that time he learns what was really happening.

"Timecrimes" is a very carefully crafted work. Every detail is precisely placed to tell the complete story of what really happened in those Spanish woods during that fateful evening. There is an amazing moment at the end of the second act in which we are shown a frame from earlier in the film, but this time focusing in on a very relevant detail in the background. Once it's pointed out so clearly, it's easy to wonder if that particular detail was really in the earlier shot (it was) and if so, how could you have missed it. But that's exactly the point. In film, just as in life, we often miss things which are hidden in plain view because our attention is drawn to the things which we think are really important.

Below, I want to discuss some of the moral implications of the film, which by necessity will include some light spoilers. If you are like me and you don't want anything given away, you may want to skip that section until you have seen the film.

In the meanwhile, though, I want to share another one of Nacho Vigalondo's films with you.
This one is a short titled " 7:35 in the Morning." It was nominated for an Oscar in 2005 as Best Short Feature, Live Action. It's a wonderfully twisted piece about the disconnection we have from the people we may see everyday and one man's misguided attempt to do something about that.

[Remember, there are spoilers from here on in.]

One of the most intriguing (or frustrating) things about "Timecrimes" is that although Hector eventually does learn what happened around him, neither he nor the audience ever actually learns why they happened. Because of the effect of time travel, everything in the film happened not because anyone caused it to happen, but because it had to happen that way. Everything Hector saw and did the first time had to happen again because (according to Novikov) there was zero probability that it wouldn't happen. For instance, the scientist who tricked Hector into the time machine had to do so, because he had already seen Hector get out of the time machine an hour earlier. Was his trickery morally wrong? Would it have been better (or worse) for him to have tried to stop Hector from going back in time in the first place? Would it even have been possible?

In the final act, we witness how the most heinous crime was orchestrated, but was it really a criminal act? The film makes it clear that amid all the time travel, nothing was ever changed. Events did not happen multiple times in multiple time streams, but rather the same singular events were witnessed from various points to view. So how criminal is it to orchestrate an event which has already happened?

So, the most striking thing about "Timecrimes", which sets it apart from all other time travel movies (indeed it sets it apart from almost every narrative film ever made), is that there are no inciting characters. No one ever initiates any action. No one. Every single character merely responds to events which are happening around him or her, events which are only set in motion by them responding to other events which were set in motion by them responding to events which were set in motion by . . . etc., etc. ad infinitum.