September 2015 Media Round-up (Movies)


Lady Chatterley’s Lover (2015)

I’m not actually familiar with the content of the book, just vaguely aware of its place in pop culture, so I can’t really judge whether this is a decent adaptation. But I suspect not? This aired as a TV movie on BBC One, and the 90-minute constraint on its length is definitely a thing that you can feel. There’s just not quite enough time to give any depth to the relationship between Constance and Chatterley or the relationship between Constance and Mellors; by the end, when Constance leaves her husband for the game-keeper, it’s kind of like: who even cares? It seems like one of the main complaints about this adaptation is the lack of sex (at least, in comparison to the novel), which seems fair given that the plot hinges on the intensity of Constance and Mellors’s physical connection. I think for the ending of Constance leaving her husband (and respected society) for Mellors to work, we need to either believe that a) she and Mellors are actually in love (mind + body) or b) that their sex is so mindblowingly awesome that any social incompatibility is irrelevant. But I can’t really buy the former, since what we see of their interactions is just like: she tries to talk to him, he’s gruff and hyperaware of their class differences, one of them gets offended, and then maybe they bang. It seems to come down to them both being attractive and there, which would be enough if (b) held, but it just doesn’t.

According to Wikipedia, the book also has much more about Constance’s background and the class issues there, and I wish some of that had gotten into the movie, to add something to the character other than beautiful but sexually frustrated young wife.

Beyond the Lights (2014)

Holy shit, I was recovering from a cold when I watched this, so between that and the emotional content of the movie, I just amassed a fucking mountain of tissues. The poster and the basic premise (pop star falls in love with policeman) make it seem like it will be a fluffy romance, but NOPE. There’s some heavy shit about racial identity and the objectification of women in the music industry, and I mean, the “meet-cute” is the policeman saving the pop star from a suicide attempt, which is, you know, not very cute at all. Anyway, I was totally invested in the central romance, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is, like, very attractive throughout, so yep, solid movie.

The Riot Club (2014)

Eh, not amazing. Essentially 107 minutes of rich people are The Worst but they sure are aesthetically pleasing, aren’t they?

So the movie follows these two Oxford first-years, Milo and Alistair, as they join a super exclusive and infamous dining club1. They’re both posh, obviously, but Milo is more left-wing—he’s dating a girl, Lauren, from a (gasp) middle-class background—while Alistair is a total snob. They also hate each other—presumably just over ideological differences? The rivalry is not established very well, I think, but it also may be part of a larger issue for this particular blogger, that is:

This movie is definitely meant for a British audience. That’s not a bad thing, obviously. The movie relies on the audience understanding what it means about a person if he says “pudding” instead of “dessert” or went to Eton (or Harrow or Westminster) or uses some particular really dumb abbreviations (lol @ “prozzer” for prostitute), and that’s totally fair. There are going to be some universal markers of rich dick-ness, probably, but these dudes aren’t quite our Rich Dicks. And despite probably (okay, definitely, but I’m pretty embarrassed about it) being an Anglophile, I haven’t internalized a lot of the specific British class connotations. So it took me perhaps longer than it should have to understand what the differences between Milo and Alistair were, and I’m not sure if that’s entirely due to the cultural differences or if there were some poor cinematic choices in there as well.

Anyway, there’s a lot of debauchery, because this is the posh British equivalent of a frat, I guess. Most of the debauchery (drinking! property destruction! more drinking!) is just not that interesting, although maybe it’s not supposed to be, since this movie is very much not about glorifying that sort of gleeful “boys will be boys” frat mentality. The debauchery also mostly takes place in a private room in a country pub, and the movie follows the POVs of the pub-owner, Chris, and his beautiful daughter, Rachel, as well, so that when the Riot Club (SPOILER) completely wrecks the pub and beats up the pub-owner after he refuses to take their money for the damages, the audience knows to feel extra bad about it. Which…I’m not sure if the movie benefits from cutting between the POVs, as it does feel like really obvious emotional manipulation and a sort of condescending assumption that the audience wouldn’t know who to side with otherwise. The message would almost definitely still be clear without it. Like, I understand that spending time with sympathetic or semi-sympathetic characters like Chris, Rachel, and Milo, also serves to remind the audience that hey, not all people are The Worst, and that it might just be too fucking dark to watch an entire movie about rich dicks doing shitty things. But we basically already are doing that, so why not fully commit to it.

I did like the ending of Alistair getting off basically scot-free for the assault on the pub-owner—he gets sent down (expelled? suspended? idk) from Oxford, but a former Riot Club member and current Conservative MP offers him a better lawyer and a “future.” The final conversation between the two of them is actually pretty interesting, with all of its subtext (and text) about the purpose of the club and its members places in society (mutual blackmail material, networking, a place to be unabashedly privileged assholes without a need to fake humility to be semi-likable to the masses).

The Gamechangers (2015)

Okay, so this follows Sam Houser, the president of Rockstar Games, as played by Daniel Radcliffe (!), and the anti-video-game activist lawyer, Jack Thompson, over the course of a few years, as Rockstar develops and releases Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Thompson files various (crazy) suits against Rockstar. And right, from that basic description alone, you can probably already see some major cringe potential. One would expect a certain level of out-of-touchness and fear-mongering to automatically accompany the subject matter, but I think the movie as a whole is relatively non-judgmental about the content of the GTA games, whereas Thompson’s views come across as extreme and irrational (although as a Youth, I’m obviously biased, so who knows).

No, the issue is, again, the time constraint; this was another 90-minute TV film on BBC. (And to be honest, the writing was pretty weak, so even if it weren’t for the time constraint and lack of focus, this still might not be great). There are so many potentially interesting movies embedded in The Gamechangers, but it simply doesn’t have the time to do justice to any of them.

  • Pursuing a Vision at all costs. Certainly, having the parallel storylines of Houser and Thompson was supposed to be a look they’re not so different after all thing about Men With Visions. I mean, the actual content of their respective Visions—video games are Art in the same way that films, literature, etc. are Art vs. violent video games are responsible for the moral degradation of the Youths—may be questionable2, but still: both dudes are clearly committed to their principles, even when it would be easier to take on more mainstream views. The movie sort of perfunctorily shows the strain that that places on Thompson’s relationships with his wife and son. It’s also trying to get at…something, by focusing on the relationship between Houser and his friend/producer, Jamie King. It seems like there was something more going on than “Houser overworks King, Houser makes a thoughtful gesture, Houser overworks King again, King finally quits because he’s had enough of this shit but he still thinks Houser’s a genius.” But yeah, it just was not super clear what the depth of their relationship was supposed to be, so naturally one (i.e. this garbage person who watches everything through slash goggles) assumes unrequited love on King’s part. (This is, however, complicated by the fact that these characters are based on real people who did not actually approve of the making of this movie.)
  • Video games as art and artists’ responsibility (or lack thereof) to society. Accidentally covered all of this in the footnotes, oops.
  • (White) Brits and their perceptions of (black) American culture. Honestly, I would have loved a whole movie about this. Because I definitely assumed GTA was made by Americans before I saw this movie, and it’s super interesting to think of it as a sort of distorted British view of American culture. And it also adds another level to the “artists’ accountability” aspect for the Rockstar people to be required to answer for crimes committed in another country.

And now begins the “we ran out of things to cross stitch3 so we should probably use this as an opportunity to (force ourselves to) watch Foreign Films, right?” section:

A Royal Affair (2012)

Solid. Gorgeous period costumes and set pieces, reasonably compelling plot, lots of good face-acting.

It would have been really easy to characterize the king, Christian, as an unambiguously terrible dude; I like that they showed him to be a shitty husband for Caroline, but a kind of fun guy and mostly loyal friend to Struensee. And the fact that the affair between Caroline and Struensee is not just a physical thing, but also a “omg you’re also a fan of the Enlightenment? Let’s reform Denmark together!” thing is pretty delightful and, at least to someone unfamiliar with Danish history, unexpected.

A little skeeved out by the Mads Mikkelsen/Alicia Vikander age difference (23 years), although it’s somewhat justified by the actual age difference (14 years) between the historical figures they’re portraying and Mikkelsen is certainly charismatic enough to sell the romance. Is Mads Mikkelsen hot? I don’t know! I’m so confused.

Thirst (2009)

I mean, vampires. I love vampires. I love vampires in modern settings, especially, because it always offers such a good intersection of the supernatural and the mundane in a way that period vampires don’t quite, since the gap between history and fantasy just never feels that large. So there are definitely aspects of Thirst that appeal to me on that level. In particular, the scene where Sang-hyun (the vampire) is eating kimbap with Tae-ju and flinches because he “suddenly got a whiff of blood”—we then see Tae-ju rushing off to the bathroom and grabbing a menstrual pad and it’s just so mundane and great.

Also delightful: the fact that this is apparently an (okay, loose) adaptation of Thérèse Raquin in modern Korea with vampires.

Less delightful: ugh, the sex scenes between Sang-hyun and Tae-ju were so uncomfortable to watch. Neither party looked like they were enjoying themselves, and it’s unclear to me whether or not this was intentional. The shots of Tae-ju sucking on Sang-hyun’s fingers while he sucks on her feet provides some nice visual foreshadowing of the mutual blood-sucking in the eventual vampire siring scene, but also ewww. And like…just so much squelching, both in the sex scenes and in the blood-sucking scenes, which is reasonable and should probably occur in more vampiric media with audio components, but again: ewww. Right, there are many moments at which Thirst induces a sort of visceral discomfort, and that’s probably intentional (and, I think, part of Park Chan-wook’s deal in general), but not exactly pleasant to watch.

The Hunt (2012)

Solid, but super depressing, as one would probably expect from a movie about a dude who gets falsely accused of pedophilia. It’s so frustrating because the characters all respond to the situation pretty reasonably—like, there’s not really an occasion where you think that a character is making a dumb decision, either out of normal human irrationality or for plot advancement purposes—but because of the particular situation, everything is just fucked for most of the movie and you can’t even have the satisfaction of being like “well, he obviously should have done [insert alternative here] instead.”

That’s super vague, so here’s a basic plot summary with minimal editorializing: Lucas is a divorced, middle-aged kindergarten teacher in a small Danish village. His best friend’s daughter, Klara, is one of his students and has the sort of crush on him that is not super abnormal for a small child to have on a family friend/teacher. Klara also has an older brother whose friends hang out at her house and show each other porn and, because they are teenage boys, think it’s funny to show Klara some of the images. Anyway, Lucas often plays around with the kindergarteners and lets them tackle him (in a, you know, wholesome way), and in one of these instances, Klara climbs on top of him and kisses him on the mouth and leaves a heart-shaped note in his jacket. He later pulls her aside and gently tells her that she should probably only kiss her parents like that and maybe she’d like to give the note to one of her classmates? (Which: seems like the right way to approach that situation, no?) But since Klara is, like, 5, she reacts to this rejection by telling the kindergarten director that Lucas exposed himself to her. And because Klara has the specific imagery of her brother’s pornography to draw on, it reads as a believable accusation to the director, and, you know, in cases like these, the consequences of false negatives (i.e. an actual pedophile is not caught) are much worse than false positives (i.e. an innocent man is accused of being a pedophile). So the director goes through with whatever the protocol is to deal with potential child abuse in a kindergarten. (Which: also seems like the right way to approach the situation). And now the whole community thinks that Lucas is a pedophile and shuns him and it is really fucking awful to watch.

I don’t know, no insight on this other than: ughhhh, so stressful. And: Is Mads Mikkelsen hot? I still don’t know! I’m still so confused.

No (2012)

The subject matter is pretty cool—a political group hires a successful ad man, René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), to consult on their campaign to get the Chilean public to vote “No” on the referendum to keep Pinochet in power. And all of the scenes of Saavedra responding to the political idealists’ attempts to make the campaign highlight Pinochet’s tyranny and brutal policies with variations on “like, yeah, Pinochet sucks, but your ad is a total bummer and no one wants to watch that” are great. But the movie overall is just a bit…slow.

Still, it probably inspired some feels about  ~The Power of Branding~4

2046 (2004)

I’ve been meaning to watch this movie since I was in high school and thought Zhang Ziyi was, like, the Most Attractive. And now I’ve finally watched it and…I didn’t get it. Maybe there wasn’t anything to get, and it was all just about the ~ambience~ and the emotions and whatever; maybe I’m just super dumb. It was very pretty, and it made me really want to see, like, a Hong Kong-set remake of Iron Man starring Tony Leung as Tony Stark. I don’t know, I recognize its artistic merit, with the non-linear narrative and the story-within-a-story and the Style, but I think it was ultimately just not for me.

[1] The Riot Club may or may not be based on Bullingdon Club, of which David Cameron used to be a member although it is notably not the alleged pig-fucking club. ^
[2] I mean, I think I agree with the video games as Art argument, as much as any given book or movie is Art. (Then again, what even is Art? Why do we care if a thing is or is not Art?) But I would also say that the GTA franchise is probably not the best example to use when trying to make that argument to an uninformed public.
And wrt violent video games influencing kids to commit violent crimes—I mean, probably they do desensitize kids to and glorify acts of violence. So do a lot of other forms of media (movies, TV shows, books, music, etc.). It’s true that these other influences lack the interactive aspect of video games, but that just doesn’t seem like the most important factor in the argument to me; I mean, consider the hysteria over heavy metal music in the 90s. Anyway, I guess my (obvious) point is that it’s dumb to blame any particular form of media when someone who consumed a lot of it commits a crime? Sure, the type of person who becomes a school shooter is more likely to be super into heavy metal than indie pop (although would’t it be hilarious if a Belle and Sebastian fan went on a rampage and suddenly the media was like “oh my god, our children are being corrupted by tweeness!”), but wow, so what? I think that when people connect strongly to a piece of art—to the point of shaping their life philosophies around it—it’s less about the particular piece of art and more about their life circumstances and state of mind at the moment of encountering it (sort of touched on this in my discussion of Kumiko the Treasure Hunter). And why should an artist be held accountable for the entire sequence of events that led someone to connect with their art in that way? ^
[3] In case the logic here is not obvious: it’s hard to follow a cross stitch pattern and read subtitles at the same time, you know? ^
[4] According to Wikipedia, “In [a] criticism [of No], a Chilean political science professor asked if one should really celebrate the moment that political activism turned into marketing, rather than a discussion of principles.” And um, hell yeah, one should. Although I don’t think the movie is even making the case for marketing rather than principles. It seems more like a give-and-take between the two: synthesizing ideology into something marketable while also using marketing methods to communicate principles to their full advantage. But hasn’t political activism always been a form of marketing anyway? How is trying to convince someone to buy into (with, um, ~spiritual capital~) your beliefs worth celebrating on a level that trying to convince someone to buy a product isn’t? ^


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