June 2016 Movies


Kicking and Screaming (1995)

Yes, good. Obviously, this speaks to me a lot at this point in my life, as I’m still pretty sure that the college student lifestyle is the greatest and having difficulty accepting my 9 to 5 existence. A lot of really great one-liners, and Chris Eigeman is fantastic, although the relationship his (college graduate) character has with a teenager is, um…not an element that has aged well1.

Good Bye, Lenin! (2003)

This takes place in East Berlin in the late 80s/early 90s, and the basic premise, without going too much into the plot mechanics that get us there, is that the protagonist’s (Daniel Bruhl) mother falls into a coma before the fall of the Berlin Wall and wakes up afterwards in a weakened state, so the protagonist, Alex, decides to pretend that nothing has changed in the German Democratic Republic in order to prevent his mother from experiencing any shock that might worsen her condition. This means creating fake news reports, relabeling groceries, making up convoluted backstories for any signs of capitalism that might appear outside his mother’s bedroom window, etc. Which is sort of cute and funny, and sort of disturbing and manipulative? And the movie goes into the latter aspect of Alex’s plan a little, but I wish it had done more of it—how to some extent the Alex is doing this as a way to work through his own complicated feelings about the fall of the Berlin Wall—there’s, like, one scene of Alex blowing up at West Germans, I think?—and not wholly for his mother’s health.

Also, the reunion with the father in West Berlin was super touching and I def cried.

And Daniel Bruhl has such a good face.

Mistress America (2015)

Amazing. Greta Gerwig’s character is so awful in such a specific, well-written way, and you get why everyone is both kind of mesmerized and repulsed by her. I expected the Lola Kirke character to be more of a cipher/audience stand-in, but no, she is also just a very specifically written, kind of awful person and in a way that’s pretty unusual for a fictional female character, I think; we’re pretty used to seeing the male college freshmen with writerly ambitions being super callous and arrogant and fixating on a ~damaged woman as their muse, but, like, never a female character?

The dialogue is so fucking solid, which I guess is a thing to be expected with Noah Baumbach, but still, man. It manages to capture that tone where it’s clear that the characters are trying really hard to sound deep/profound/literary and some of it is laughable and some of it is embarrassingly relatable:

Sunshine Cleaning (2008)

Cute idea & cast, super forgettable movie.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

FUCK THIS SHIT. I haven’t hated a movie this much in a while, I think.

I’m wondering if, to some extent, I’m reacting to this in the same way that garbage dudes have been reacting to the new Ghostbusters; i.e. “this thing belongs to our gender, don’t try to make it yours.” But I’d actually be totally cool with a genderbent remake of Pride and Prejudice2, although maybe the genre would still appeal more to women on average. (But then again, it’s not like the new Ghostbusters changed genres just by having female leads, right? Although I’ve neither seen the original nor the recent Ghostbusters so I don’t super know what I’m talking about here.) So, no, while it’s true that a lot of the shittiness of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for me, lies in what seems like an utter lack of respect and affection for the source material and why people like the source material, it’s also probably just legitimately shitty—the general critical response would seem to back me up on that.

I once had a conversation with a male friend who said he didn’t like Austen because the stakes weren’t high enough and it all just seemed trivial3. As if death is the only worthwhile stake and all fiction needs to include actual, physical battle or something to not be “trivial.” It’s a pet peeve, this sort of belief that “stakes” are a universal concept, that results in every single superhero movie or sci-fi movie having to be about saving the entire goddamn world from apocalypse and yet also needing to somehow raise the stakes in each sequel. Give me more specific, personal stakes anytime and don’t try to tell me that they’re less interesting or less important.

In any case, P&P is pretty high stakes, I think; at it’s core, it’s a succession issue. Certainly within the context of historical fiction or fake medieval British fantasy, we’re willing to believe that’s a “non-trivial” issue, although possibly only when a throne is involved? Because most of us are not super familiar with the British country lifestyle at the turn of the 19th century, it’s hard to evaluate just what the impact on the Bennet sisters would be if Mr. Bennet dies and they’ve failed to make good matches—Austen doesn’t walk us through that4 the way that, say, Julian Fellowes does in the first season of Downton Abbey—but it’s something they’re super worried about, and if Austen succeeds in making us care about them (and literary history would suggest that she does), that should be enough to make us invested, and if we’re invested, there are stakes. So the idea that we need to add in zombies and explosions and life-and-death stakes to make it compelling or worthwhile is dumb and misses the whole fucking point of P&P.

Also, P&P&Z turns Elizabeth Bennet into a generic Strong Female Character in the action genre, and that is unforgivable. This version of Elizabeth Bennet would rather be fighting than going to dumb girly dances, but when she overhears Darcy insulting her at the first dance,  she is genuinely hurt and has a lip-quivering moment to show that she’s still a Vulnerable Girl underneath her tough exterior, which…ughhhh. Part of the appeal of the original Elizabeth Bennet or at least what makes her interesting in contrast to generic Strong Female Characters, certainly, is that she’s intelligent and sarcastic and everything without completely rejecting social conventions, and is, in fact, pretty socially adept? It’s easy to take her combativeness with Darcy, Caroline Bingley, etc. and her desire to only marry for love and redefine her as, like, this independent rebel who rejects dumb ~girly~ things like romance and dances and shit until she finally—reluctantly—succumbs to True Love, because that better fits the mold of female heroines we’re used to from YA and movies and it’s maybe more relatable to the sort of bookish adolescents who would be reading P&P for the first time now, but it’s just so not correct. Because really the case is that Darcy is so rude and snobby in his awkwardness and the feelings involved are so strong that he provokes a reaction despite Elizabeth’s natural genialness/amiability—shown in her enjoyment of dances, her relationships with her sisters and Charlotte Lucas, the ease with which she seems to befriend Bingley, Wickham, Colonel Fitzwilliam, etc., even the grace with which she handles her more unpleasant social interactions with Collins, the Bingley sisters, etc.

And all of the verbal sparring has been turned into literal sparring, which also: ughhhh. Because conversations and subtext are so boring when characters could be doing a (subpar) imitation of that fight scene from The Mask of Zorro where Antonio Banderas ends up cutting Catherine Zeta Jones’s clothes off, am I right?

I mean, I am in general pretty pro-adapating/reimagining classics in new ways. But lifting lines directly from the original text while stripping them of the context and characterization that gave them meaning there seems like the worst way to go about this sort of remixing of canon and probably a large reason why it feels so dumb and offensive. It comes across as more lazy, like people who just drop quotes from movies or TV shows into coversation and consider those to be clever pop culture references. Better to do this like one of those re-stagings of Shakespeare plays in different settings, where all of the dialogue is the same and so the characters and their motivations are preserved through that, but the costumes, sets, props, etc. offer a different context. Or better to do it like Clueless, and completely change the setting and dialogue, but retain the spirit of the thing. Orrrr better to just write an original Regency-era zombie flick, because that is itself a pretty interesting concept5, and don’t half-assedly drag a beloved property into it. Because the message comes across as “P&P is dumb chick lit; wouldn’t it be fun if we added guns and explosions and a supernatural threat to civilization into it to really highlight what dumb chick lit the original is?” While also capitalizing on the super annoying zombie hype which was at its peak, I think, when the book first came out.

The Neon Demon (2016)

Already discussed at length here.

Perfect Sense (2011)

Eva Green and Ewan McGregor are the most charming and should be romantic leads in every movie, probably. In addition to the romance, this has an interesting sci-fi/speculative fiction premise—there’s some sort of pandemic causing humans to lose their senses, one at a time—that it does some cool things with. McGregor’s character is a chef, and the ways in which his restaurant adjusts to its customers losing their sense of smell and then taste are just very well thought out. There is something really appealing about watching people/society adapt to massive changes in the status quo, I guess, in more subtle ways than the “burn everything down and become nomadic warriors” scenario we’re used to.

Still, the ending is super disturbing; Green and McGregor’s characters find each other and embrace just as they lose their sight and the screen goes black, which, sure, is super romantic, until you think about the fact that since they’ve so far lost their senses of smell, taste, hearing, and sight, the only way they can recognize each other is through touch, and since that is one of the five traditional senses, are they going to lose that as well? And what then? Everyone is just essentially locked in with no way of communicating with each other or interacting with the outside world at all, which is fucking horrifying.

1. I mean, I don’t think the movie is necessarily endorsing that type of relationship, but I also think the mainstream connotation of a 22/23 year-old dating a 16/17 year-old has probably changed in the past 20 years from “kind of pathetic in a funny way” to “super creepy and Problematic.” ^
2. Although you would probably have to make Jane, Lizzie, et al.’s male counterparts Mr. Bennet’s bastard sons or something to make the inheritance issues driving the plot still have similar weight as they do when the characters are female? ^
3. Well, okay, this was a few years ago and I may be putting words in his mouth there, but given that this was someone whose favorite movie is The Dark Knight, I think it is safe to attribute this sentiment to him.^
4. But I think Charlotte Lucas and the whole of Sense and Sensibility do give us some insight into the fate that the sisters are trying to avoid. And contrast this with Emma, where the stakes are purely personal; Emma doesn’t need to marry anyone to be financially comfortable, so it is more about Emma gaining self-awareness—of her feelings and how her behavior affects others—and whatever, but we end up caring about that, too, yeah? ^
5. Since we basically only ever see zombies in contemporary settings, I think? Probably because zombies are usually meant to serve as some metaphor for Modern Society. ^


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