Archive

Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

See: The Last Airbender

2010/07/16 Comments off

M. Night Shyamalan only blesses us with a new film every three years or so, and whenever he does I make the pilgrimage to my local cinema to enjoy his latest offering. I can sincerely say that n is not only my favorite director, but simply the best director of films ever. Thus, I consider it my duty to tell you to rush as fast as possible to go see The Last Airbender. Pure gold.

I am not a fan of the medium of film. For whatever reason, cinema generally not only does nothing for me, but actively bores me. So when a terrible movie comes along – like almost everything by Shyamalan –  I get to feel justified. Shyamalan’s movies are so terrible that they render null and void all previous cinematic accomplishments. My friends and I have a theory that Shyamalan is making progressively worse movies so that his first movie, The Sixth Sense, will look like a masterpiece in comparison.

And with The Last Airbender, he is well along on his way is making that dream come true. The dialogue is terrible, the actors are given almost no opportunity to act, and the story telling is pitiable. The last third of the 1 hour 45 minute long movie is all foreshadowing for the “epic” last ten minutes. Problem is, instead of mounting suspense, the last forty minutes merely repeat the same “clue” over and over again. Even people like myself who have never seen a second of the anime Avatar: The Last Airbender could predict exactly how the film was going to end making most of the film an excruciating ordeal to sit through. The 3D effects were poorly done and didn’t add anything. Enormous 3D ships drove straight toward the audience and didn’t stop until they were conceptually passing through their faces. All the shots were extremely tight, meaning that the screen was filled with extreme close-ups of character’s noses. The “bending”, the magical hoohaa stuff that is what supposed to be cool about the Anime series is taken too literally in the live-action revamp and just ends up looking silly; the battles in the film look more like modern dance battles than sprawling wars. Shyamalan falls into the same trap many directors do when transforming an animated concept into a live-action form: when taken too literally it looks ridiculous. Worst of all, Shyamalan breaks the cardinal rule of visual story telling, opting to tell the viewer what is happening rather than showing us. The Last Airbender is essentially all narration, with the lead female sidekick’s voiceover explaining what sort of cool stuff had happened in the movie we unfortunately didn’t get to see. 

In short, I loved it. 

I‘m not going to go into the whole racial politics side of The Last Airbender (in case you haven’t heard yet, all the Asians from the original series have been replaced with white actors who can kind of pass). Except I would like to point out that in the village of Inuits there just happens to be the world’s whitest women cast as a village elder. Don’t worry though! The bad guys are still dark-skinned – it’s nice to see that Shyamalan is being equally racially offensive to every minority. in case you were wondering, in the original series the heroes from the Inuit tribe actually had darker skin and the villains from the fire Nation were pale skinned… soooo… basically Shyamalan strayed from the original source as often as he could as long as it was offensive. Maybe he isn’t all to blame, there is a chance he didn’t personally select each actor by himself. Oops, I guess that I did go into the whole race thing, my bad. Some random searching online for funny pictures of the cast directed me to http://abagond.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/the-casting-of-the-last-airbender/, so why don’t you click that link to read a more in-depth examination of the casting?

 If I may step onto my personal soap box for just a few words, I would like to point out that The Last Airbender demonstrates exactly why I am against the advent of 3D movies. Aside from the fact that they make the non-3D object blurry and hurt my eyes, 3D movies remind me a bit of product placement. Directors have begun to put things into movies simply in order to have them be in 3D. Rather than augmenting the message of the film, 3D becomes a spectacle. Space documentaries in 3D? Awesome and they have a reason to be that way. The fact 3D looks “cool” doesn’t justify, for me, inserting useless doodads into movies. Maybe that’s why I’m generally anti-movie, because too often the point is to awe us with spectacle rather than speak to something larger than surface appeal. 

Which is part of why I believe every one should go see The Last Airbender. Or any M. Night Shyamalan movie. Movies, particularly hollywood blockbusters, are far too self-congratualatory. It’s almost as bad as the indie-music hipsters scene. M. Night Shyamalan movies are like Brittany Spears songs, they are a humbling reminder of how much we truly suck, which is important for tempering our tendency toward hubris. Just when we start thinking too highly of ourselves (I’m looking at you James Cameron) someone like Shyamalan comes along and earns millions of dollars by producing crap. Essentially, if MacBeth had only watched some Shyamalan films, perhaps things would have ended better for him. So go do yourself a favor and see The Last Airbender and feel terrible about the state of humanity. You’ll thank me between sobs of disgust.

Advertisements
Categories: Film Tags:

See: Sex and the City 2

2010/06/01 1 comment

I just saw the film Sex and the City 2, and I have not had more fun in a theatre since M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. The film is 2.5 hours of pure laugh-out-loud terrible. It deliberately avoids any sense of character development or conflict or message and instead rejoices in showcasing opulence and ostentation. On top of that, there are problematic depictions of race, class, colonization, heteronormativity, sex, and excess. Numerous other commentators have already decried SATC2 as inappropriate rich-girl porn, and so I’ll do my best to avoid that line of thought, but really, ignoring the celebration of excess while talking about talking about this film is to ignore 95% of its content. And since this is one of those films in which you know exactly how it’s going to end before you buy your ticket, I’m not going to attempt to be vague about any plot points that come up. So consider that your spoiler alert.

While it may be overreaching to claim there is any sort of unifying theme to SATC2, the idea of what makes a ‘normal’ relationship is arguably the  big question the women seem to be facing. Except for Samantha who is rarely facing anything but a headboard. Miranda and Charlotte struggle with their career and child rearing, respectively, while Carrie deals with the idea of her husband taking a 2 day vacation off from the burden of living with here every week. No one is content, and so a trip to Abu Dhabi (“the NEW Middle East!”) with Samantha on a PR excursion seems to be the solution. After what Sarah Jessica Parker calls a “caper”, the women find peace doing almost exactly what they were doing before; now they just feel empowered doing it. Miranda is still a lawyer, but now she’s in a law firm that is ‘progressive’ (they have meetings on a rooftop patio, and there’s two different people of colour on staff). Charlotte, thanks to having a full-time nanny, is able to take time off from her kids in Carrie’s old apartment, reading magazines and sipping tea. Carrie’s conflict is resolved most disturbingly, with her on her knees in front of Mr. Big, begging his forgiveness and being forced to repeat a set of marriage vows he’s written for her. She finally is willing to relinquish her own last name to take his, signifying the complete dismantling of her pre-marriage identity, which of course brings her happiness. Samantha basically just has sex under some fireworks, which is probably the least misogynistic ending of them all, which says a lot about the movie in general. I was a bit shocked, however, at how passive Samantha is during the actual sexual act; for a character so sexually aggressive and liberated, all she does is lay back and spout relatively uninspired grunts. I guess she’s positioned so that the camera can objectify her male lovers (we get a lot of male buttock), but considering her entire character is built around sex, you’d think it would be a bit more interesting.   

There’s too much to write about, really. The whole film was scene after scene of stale dialogue, false dilemmas, and pointlessness, backgrounded by extravagance. Every scene began with a panning shot of the fabulousness of the set: every room, poolside bar, and desert sand dune was resplendent with furniture, fashion, and food.  I’m still not sure why the dining table in the women’s hotel room had twenty extra chairs at it. There was an attempt at psuedo-feminism at the halfway point: they sing a karaoke version of “I am woman” in a bar, which prompts every other women present to join in. Carrie makes the ‘deep’ comment that burqas and niqabs worn by Muslim women are an attempt to silence them, which is simultaneously simplistic feminism made for easy empowerment and culturally relative. The main conflict of the last hour of the film is based entirely on the women’s resistance to flying coach: they go to extreme lengths to ensure they don’t have to flyback to New York in anything but ultra-first class. We are, of course, meant to worry that they won’t. SATC2 seems to have overstepped the line between making the women fabulous and letting us care about them; they are so rich and so successful that their problems are completely unrelatable. 

But my main issue with the film was how is dealt with nonreproductivity. Big and Carrie are happily childless, their life epitomized by Carrie’s phrase “We are two adults with no kids. We have the freedom to design our own lives”. As a non-breeder myself, I am all for choosing not to reproduce, but SATC2 implies that there is only one path for happy childless couples: excess. Because she has no children, Carrie can afford two apartments, Manolo Blahniks, and couches that inexplicably take two and half months to procure. I’ve heard many times that couples without children are essentially selfish, and it would be hard to argue that point if your only case study was Big and Carrie. There are many good reasons not to have children (Earth is already overpopulated, additional strain on natural resources, you simply don’t want them), but Carrie hasn’t thought of any of them. It appears that the freedom to design your own life, means for Carrie, quite literally, that your life should be full of designer goods.

Sex and the City 2 is a behemoth of a movie. It’s long, it’s epic, and will probably make millions upon millions of dollars. I recommend seeing it, not because it’s good but because it’s utterly fascinating in its multiple shortcomings. I know there’s already many, many fans defending the film’s right to be escapist fluff, but I can’t help but feeling they’ve just been seduced into passive consumption. For example, one blog on Sexandthecitymovie.org, an info/fan website  manages to find the film a “fantasy of empowerment” (they must have closed their eyes during the ending or mistaken owning Versace’s newest Spring line with female economic equality). Side note, the actress’ bios on the same site link to askmen.com’s profiles of them, which rates them on two parameters: sexiness and success. Truly empowering.  

Go see the film, it’s already too late to have any negative impact on its box office by boycotting it, and have a few laughs at its expense. trust me, you won’t be alone. When I went there was a small contingent of audience members really buying into the movie, but far larger was the rest of us, enjoying it for totally different reasons. The movie itself will make you cringe, but hopefully you’ll be refreshed at seeing how many people are unwilling to passively consume easy feminism, colonialist humour, and object-driven empowerment.

 

Categories: Film

See: Exit Through the Gift Shop

2010/05/22 Comments off

I learnt a few things from watching Banksy’s film Exit Through the Gift Shop. The film documents the eccentric Thierry Guetta (AKA Mr. Brainwash) in his rise from vintage clothing store owner to street art videographer to economically successful street artist. Along the way, the audience gets exposed to many street artists and their history, and are offered a rare inside glimpse at the politics of their world. 

Within the first few minutes of the film I learned that I really like street art. I actually wouldn’t mind it if all of Montreal’s metro system was covered in *quality* street art. (DISCLAIMER: this post, like the film, is engaged in the tricky rhetoric of “art” “high aht” and “quality” all of which mean different things to different people). A lot of our alleyways are filled with some really nice stuff actually, and I wouldn’t mind more of it, instead of those graffiti tags that no one can read all over the place. I particularly like the tiny T-Rex wearing gladiator high heels on the Redpath Library. Street art must be contagious, as my companion and I both left the cinema wanting to do nothing else but develop artistic skills so that we could climb up tall buildings and leave our mark.

I also learnt that you can apparently get everything you need for street art at Kinko’s. It seems you can go get  your enormous Andre the Giant faces printed off there no questions asked. And this is a good thing. I think I’d have some major qualms if Kinko’s could arbitrarily decide that your printing needs did not meet the standards of decent society. Still, before seeing Exit I kind of figured there were secret underground places to get street art supplies or something.

Thirdly, I got to see first hand how difficult it is talking about yourself as an artist without sounding like a pompous jerk. Banksy, the sometimes narrator and creator of the film, claims the film is about Thierry, because he’s “more interesting”, but the actual mystique of “legitimate art” is reserved for Banksy. Banksy is the holy grail of street artists that Guetta wants to film, the one who makes real statements, the king of the streets. And in a way, he is: his street art is fantastic, he is politically minded, and is really the most recognized name in street art to date. The problem is, in a movie made by Banksy, it comes across as self-aggrandizing to talk about how marvelous Banksy is. At one point, just before Guetta finally gets to meet with Banksy, the music becomes reminiscent of a choir of angels. I get it, it’s playing off the idea of Banksy as Guetta’s holy grail, but having a beatific soundtrack to your own introduction is a bit… well, high and mighty.

Bansky is a little critical, too, of people who don’t “get” his art. Specifically, one section of the film follows the development of Banksy’s first L.A. exhibition. It features a real elephant in the warehouse space painted with litres and litres of children’s face paint to match the space’s wallpaper. The piece was titled “the Elephant in the Room”, and was supposedly meant to make literal our metaphorical elephants in rooms.  News casters and activists, however, were critical of using a live animal in a not-enormous space and of painting it (I presume children’s face paints are regulated to be non-toxic). Banksy lambasts them for being unable to see past the easy critique and really think about what he meant to say. Well, yes, there is a message behind the piece, but that also doesn’t negate the fact that an elephant was transported in a tiny truck and subjected to presumably hours of people taking pictures of it, shoving video cameras in its face, and — worst of all — talking incessantly about how wonderful art is and how they by extension are good people for seeing it. But at least Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were there, that must have made the elephant happy! 

I left torn, having enjoyed the film but also recognizing it as a character assassination piece. Or, at least, cinematic bullying. Exit does not offer a sympathetic or unbiased portrayal of Guetta; instead he is made out to be a joke, a wannabe, a fraud, and a plaigarist. Exit, at least, never claimed to be a documentary. The film, which begins by making Guetta seem a harmless, quirky Frenchman, depicts him by the end as a pathetic, desperate poseur. The thing is, the film’s argumentation is well made enough that one can hardly help but agree with Banksy that Guetta/Mr. Brainwash really isn’t making art, nor should he be dubbed an “artist” (whatever the heck that means).  Exit shows you the worst things about the man, and then asks you “he’s terrible, isn’t he?”. It’s difficult to argue with that reasoning. My companion argued that you are technically given a choice as to whether Guetta makes legitimate street art (no one holds a gun to your head and makes you agree with them); basically, it is never outrightly stated that Guetta is a fraud, it’s just implied over and over again. To come to any conclusion but Banksy’s means you have to willfully ignore the context and subtext of the entire film.

Personally, I think the film could have taken a more sympathetic approach to its subject without detracting from its central themes or even argument. Guetta, who compulsively videotapes everything he sees for hours on end, clearly has some sort of hoarding complex.  The film hints at this, stating that Guetta’s mother died when he was young and now he tries to capture his life on film so nothing will suddenly disappear on him, but more could have been made of it. Guetta had thousands of hours of footage of street artists at work, and though he was unable to compile them into a coherent documentary, Banksy could have easily created a comprehensive piece about street art instead of undermining one slightly unwell but well-intentioned man.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is definitely worth the time to see it, if you live in one of the select Canadian cities it’s playing in. When viewed with a critical eye, the film offers up a new appreciation of the art we walk past everyday and the hidden politics behind it.

Categories: Film Tags: ,