Friday, 30 September 2011

Reservoir Dogs - Fail

Title: Reservoir Dogs
Genre: Crime/Thriller/(Drama)
Country: USA
Year: 1992
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Harvey Keitel; Tim Roth; Chris Penn; Steve Buscemi; Lawrence Tierney; Michael Madsen; Quentin Tarantino

Plot: After one coup goes very wrong, the remaining gangsters suspect that there's a police informant amongst them and they're trying to figure out who the snitch is. Cue more violence, confusion and mistrust.

Bedchel Test:

At least 2 Women? No woman whatsoever. I think I spotted some walking past in the distant background.

Talking? ... No women=no talking.

...About something other than men? "


I didn't expect this to pass the Bedchel test, however I was surprised by the fact that there is NO woman at all. And there are quite a few people in the movie all in all. This mixed with the sexism portrayed makes for an uncomfortable watch. The only time a woman is talked about is this conversation "What about this woman's ass?" "Sitting on my dick."
There is one interesting shout-out to waitresses and their

Now, the uncomfortable sexism and machoism (which is almost to be expected from a gangster movie, of course...) aside, is this a good watch?

Eh. I'm not sure. There's also the uncomfortable Tarantino violence that doesn't make you think "this is vile but interesting for a portrayal of the story" but that always borders on the line of glorification. Most times in his debut it still works as it creates the backbone of the story: these guys are merciless violent criminals. At other times it just seems too much of Tarantino's wet dream. "Hey, I can't go around cutting people's ears off, let my characters do that instead!" Badass.

Also of course: This movie is hyped to no end which explains my disappointment. Yes, the story works. Yes, there's an interesting climax and no, the movie is not bad. But why is it hailed as such an indie classic? Besides the violence? Oh right, that's it. That's the one original part, the strangely artistic violence within this story. Sorry, I'm not against gore and blood as such, but it doesn't make a movie more interesting as such! And if you take it away, you got just this: a classic gangster movie. Which is okay, it does work as entertainment, but it's hardly innovative or groundbreaking.

My favourite parts of the movie happened when they sat down and talked about random things. But then again, that would be me being all womanly and wanting dialogue and character development in a story, I guess.

Yes, you can watch it, if you're fine with (mainly) underlying sexism, violence, oh and a lot of swearing (which I tend to not notice...) then you might enjoy it. But don't expect anything unusual. It's still the same gangster-thing set in the same white-man-in suits world.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Tree of Life - Fail

The Tree Of Life
Genre: Drama
Country: USA
Year: 2011
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain

The story goes back and forth between Jack growing up in the 50s as the eldest son in his family and him in the present (played by Sean Penn) struggling with life. There is the complicated relationship with the strict and old-fashioned father (Brad Pitt), his loving beautiful and overly sweet angelic mother (Jessica Chastain) and finally the death of his brother as a teenager. Between all this and the alienation from himself and the world, he ponders upon the question of life, what it all means, what God is trying to tell us by making the world such a cruel place and how to put together the good and the bad, the faith and life. Though most of this is not spelt out in words, as much as it's displayed by symbolism and certain camera angels that put things into perspective.

Bedchel Test:

At least 2 Women? Yes. There is the mother, some family/neighbours and some woman (?) consoling her for a brief second.

Talking? Yes. For a very short moment.

...About something other than men? No. They're talking about her sons.


I cannot understand for my life understand why this has won anything at Cannes, neither why anyone would love this movie.
I went to the cinema with three other people, all differently minded than me, all with distinct tastes in film, but when we went out of the cinema we were all assured in one thing: what a boring excuse for a movie!

Not all of the 139 painstakingly long minutes was wasted, though, so I'll start of with the good parts: There are wonderful camera shots and a beautiful scenery.
In general, but some scenes are really extraordinarily stunning and would have made an already great movie perfect.

The lack of good entertainment also can't be blamed on the great actors. I love Sean Penn but I also admire Brad Pitt as an actor, and he did a very convincing job at how I imagine a lot of father sin the 50s in the US would have been. I did not like the female role but that's not because of the actress, the character was just not very believable written, much too goody two shoes. The child actors were all convincing and created a believable atmosphere.

There's also the special effects: Douglas Trumpell (known for his work on Odyssee in Space) did a great job at produces a long sequence that showed the process of life and the creation of the universe.
He has spoken about his work in this film, explaining how such a creative artwork found its way into the movie : “We worked with chemicals, paint, fluorescent dyes, smoke, liquids, CO2, flares, spin dishes, fluid dynamics, lighting and high speed photography to see how effective they might be. It was a free-wheeling opportunity to explore, something that I have found extraordinarily hard to get in the movie business. We did things like pour milk through a funnel into a narrow trough and shoot it with a high-speed camera and folded lens, lighting it carefully and using a frame rate that would give the right kind of flow characteristics to look cosmic, galactic, huge and epic.”

Enough with the praise then. Why do I not like this movie then? First: it's not the mere fact that it's experimental. I don't mind long or confusing parts in films, I don't need a straight narrative, I don't mind putting up with a lot of hard work while watching a film - if it is rewarding.
"The Tree of Life" tries to be something so much more than American popcorn entertainment, and fails. If it's not the story, not the actors and not the camera and scenery - what is it then? Well for one, it promises great things with its slow movements and long pauses, it asks big questions and then leaves them unanswered. If those questions felt realistic, that would be fine, but instead they feel like reading the "contents" page of a primary school Ethics book on the meaning of life. Such a waste of talent. Maybe this movie dares to ask questions new to Hollywood, but surely not to cinema itself.
When I read through the reviews I feel like I've went to see a different movie than these people. So much praise for this drivel?
"The Tree of Life is a film of vast ambition and deep humility, attempting no less than to encompass all of existence and view it through the prism of a few infinitesimal live" - Roger Ebert

It attempts it alright, but manages to? Certainly not. Coming close to it would be an achievement big enough, but neither that.

The Tree of Life is nonetheless a singular work, an impressionistic metaphysical inquiry into mankind’s place in the grand scheme of things that releases waves of insights amidst its narrative imprecisions." - Todd McCarthy
Look at all those big words! I find it laughable that somehow people seem lurred into believing that some big words and walking through the sand, watching a tree grow and death as such make a movie deep and meaningful.

On the other hand, there are people who got it right. Sukhdev Sandhu of the Daily Telegraph said the movie was "self-absorbed and achingly slow, almost buckling under the weight of its swoony poetry", while Screen Daily grants the movie "moments of breathtaking visual and aural beauty" but declares it "a cinematic credo about spiritual transcendence which, while often shot through with poetic yearning, preaches too directly to its audience. If ever a whole film were on the nose, this is it."

Self-absorded? Pretentious? I could not agree more. Yet I don't even feel the producers were aware of it at all. It feels like watching the creation of a small child who just pondered some questions about her existence for the first time and thinks that makes her the greatest philosopher of all time.
Pondering about life and spirituality are no bad things, obviously. I don't study philosophy for nothing, I love it! But just putting some questions about life and God and human emotions out there, with some pseudo-poetic words to it and set to wonderful pictures, that doesn't make a good movie alone.

Let's not even talk about the male/female worldview in this one. It was the 50s afterall. On the other hand, more than the realistic portrayal of the gender situation in that time, is the personal presentation of the parents. The father a complicated troubled soul, the father the perfect person there to pick up the pieces and make everyone feel loved. Personality? Nada, just christian-value-filled devotion to her family and God's love. Angelic features, angelic
soul, white and clean perfection. I shall stop this review before I barf.

Verdict: Fail & Not Recommended

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Heartbeats - Fail

Sorry for the much too long break! I didn't stop watching movies but I spent most of the time watching documentaries, not fictional movies. I struggle with getting documentaries into the bedchel test because the whole approach and set-up of them is so different. If anyone got any ideas of how to make documentaries fit the criteria or how to include them, please tell me!

I changed the way of the "formula" of the test, too. Hopefully it is a bit easier on the eyes now!

Title: Heartbeats
Original Title: Les Amours imaginaires
Genre: Drama /Romance/ (Comedy)
Country: Canada
Year: 2010
Director: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Xavier Dolan, Monia Chokri, Niels Schneider

Plot: The two friends Marie (Chokri) and Francis (Dolan) get to know Nicolas (Schneider) at a friends' dinner party and get along well. The next weeks they spend more and more time together, until they eventually both fall in love with him. While Nicolas is flirting heavily with both of them (or at least, this is how they perceive his actions - and any sane person would) they get more competitive and their friendship disintegrates. When they confess their love to Nicolas they are both rejected and are left in a horrible lonely state. Eventually Marie and Francis rekindle their friendship.

Bedchel Test:

At least 2 Women? Besides Marie there is Nicolas' mother, Marie's friends at the dinner party and several other girls at Nicolas' birthday party.

Talking? The only point where we get any women talking is at the dinner where Marie and Francis meet Nicolas for the first time.

...About something other than men? No. They're talking about Nicolas.


While the movie features almost no women at all, I don't hold it against this movie, because here it mostly makes sense. Heartbeats is less about love than it is about obsession. Marie and Francis are obsessed of the idea of being with Nicolas and therefor hardly talk about anything else and don't focus on anything else.
There are quite a few slow motion scenes of Nicolas, that might look ridiculous if you take them at face value, but if you recognize them as the idealised portrayal of two people obsessed with the idea of that "perfect being".
It's also interesting to note that the object that is "perfected" in their heads, that is superficialised and even partly reduced to his body (regarding the focus on his youthful beauty) is a man and not a woman. It was in interesting twist on the old-fashioned "femme fatale"theme.

I enjoyed the way that the sexuality of both was not put in question, that their lust and love for Nicolas was not portrayed in any different light "according" to their gender. There was one small thing that irked me, but it was put forward in an amusing way so I'm not critiquing it, just questioning it: In between the movie there are short sequences of men and women talking about their failed love affairs with (presumably) Nicolas. One man says the old and clichéd and still often heard assumption that being bisexual clearly means you're not able to decide between men and women, and that you must know! When you're in a supermarket you either look at penises or at breasts!
Obviously this assumption is not endorsed by the director or the film as such, but it's just put out there with no critique to it, either. It irks me because you get to hear this stuff so many times as a bisexual. The latter part irritated me the most, but maybe that's just me being strange: When I'm looking at people their sexual organs tend not the be the first or only thing I look at. Not to be going all "spiritual" on you, but I'm never ever attracted to someone, man or woman, if the person as whole doesn't fit together. Of course appearance is a big part of who someone is, but merely one part of that appearance? But hey, maybe that's just me not getting all horny by breasts or penises without bodies to go with them.

Back to the film: it had a very European vibe to it, and was clearly heavily influenced by French cinema. I'm not just talking about the characters' habit of constantly smoking but a lot of slow motions, long visual scenes with little direct "story content" to tell. I enjoyed that, especially because it seemed very consciously chosen and ironic. In the same way that these Francis-obsessed two people focusses so much on their appearance and small things (Francis hugging them! Francis being cute to them!, etc) the movie did, too. It was a great approach to make the viewpoints of the two characters more understandable.

All in all it's an enjoyable, amusing and definitely entertaining drama, that is less about love as it's about the tragic of peoples' obsession with it.


Verdict: Fail & Recommended

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Reality Bites – Pass

Reality Bites (1994) is an American romantic comedy film directed by Ben Stiller. Worthy to note: it also happens to be his debut as a film director.

Lelaina (Winona Ryder) an aspiring videographer working on a documentary called Reality Bites about the lives of her friends and herself, all prime examples of the Generation X.
One of these friends is Troy (Ethan Hawke) who moves in with Lelaina and her roommate Vickie after losing his minimum wage job for stealing a candy bar.
He's a slacker, nihilist and plays in a grunge band at coffe-shops by night.

Lelaina on the other hand is more ambitious than this.
Although working as a production assistant to an obnoxious TV host she was aledictorian of her university, and hopes to be taken seriously for her work as a documentary film maker.

Obvious to everyone, including themselves, they're in love with each other but too stubborn/afraid of commitment to admit it.

Lelaina meets Michael (Ben Stiller) and they begin to date. He works at an MTV-like cable channel called "In Your Face", falls in love with Lelaine and wants to help her get her documentary get aired on his network.

The story is not particulary complicated and doesn't surprise. It's not hard to guess whether Lelaine goes for the "corporate" guy who honestly loves her but is a bit dull or the sensitive sarcastic life-long friend...

The film passes the test a few times, mainly when Lelaina and Vickie discuss their lives. While men are part of that discussion, most is about their jobs and their future and their aims in life in general. There aren't many strong female characters in "Reality Bites" but considering that the whole movie very much centers on Lelaina and her perspective it's forgivable. At least it says much more about the simplistic way the movie works, than any

Anyway, you have to cut the film some slack. As a romantic love comedy it doesn't try to build up complex likable characters all around.
The film does escape from a lot of the cliché problems most of these movies run into. Michael doesn't become the completely "bad" guy. He might be a bit boring but he is lovable and he genuinely tries to do the best for Lelaina.
While the main topic is obviously her trying to decide between the two men in her life, she spends a lot of the time thinking about her future and what she wants to achieve in her life, taking her dream very seriously.

The three main actors all help making this a worthwhile entertaining watch.
While it's certainly not a must, for 90s-nostalgist like myself it's probably the best this genre has to offer. It's for you to decide how much that means given the circumstances.

Verdict: Pass & Recommended

Nanny McPhee & the Big Bang - Pass

Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang (in the USA & Canada released under the title "Nanny McPhee Returns", I wonder why, is the original British title somehow religiously offensive?) is the 2010 sequel to the 2005 family/children film "Nanny McPhee".
The movies were adapted into screenplays by Emma Thompson and are based on Christianna Brand's "Nurse Matilda" books from the 60s. They were directed by Susanna White.

Isabel Green (played by the wonderful Maggie Gyllenhaal) lives with her children on a farm in England during the second world war. While her husband is at war she has to keep the farm running, work her job in a village job (alongside the slightly mad Mrs. Docherty) and take care of her three children Norman (Asa Butterfield), Megsie (Lil Woods) and Vincent (Oscar Steer).

When her sister's spoilt rich children Cyril (Eros Vlahos) and Celia (Rosie Taylor-Ritson) are sent to the farm to live with them, and all children start fighting Isabel doesn't know what to do anymore.

This is where Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) is coming into play.
After a bang of her stick, the children soon realize that they cannot go on fighting, and eventually learn to tolerate each other.

Isabel's brother-in-law Phil (Rhys Ifans) desperately tries to make Isabel sell the farm, using many mean ways to make her do so. One including convincing her that her husband is dead. The children now try everything to prove it isn't so. Obviously they succeed, or this wouldn't be a very good "family" film at all. At least not one in the way you expect it to be.

The story is very predictable and old-fashioned but overall it's well-executed.
The actors are wonderful, from the main actors down to great appearances of Ewan McGregor, Billy Bailey and Sinead Matthews (not as well known as the former two but she should be! She plays the wonderful kooky Jenny on British comedy-drama-tv show "Ideal", my favourite tv show that airs, by the way).
The setting and clothes are very well-done, as well. There are some nice touches like Nanny McPhee's putty eating bird Mr. Edelweiss, or the Germans dropping a bomb by accident due to sneezing three times.

In regards to the test: it's passed easily here. Both of the girls have strong personalities, and of course Nanny McPhee herself talks to all the women in the movie.
There are also some rather interesting empowering moments. When the kids have to dismantle a bomb it is the girl Megsie who succeeds in doing so.

However, there are several things about that movie that irk me very much.

I can't put my finger on it, but there is something weird about the way the military and the war is portrayed. Of course that is a challenge to portray in a kids movie that is overall very carefree and quirky, but it felt just a bit too much trivialized to me. However, I can see how that would be problematic not to do in a movie with such a light tone set in the second world war.

The thing that I found really irritating was something else, though:

In addition to emphasizing discipline and manners (which I already find a bit questionable as a moral to children, to be honest) Nanny McPhee has five lessons to teach, each of which correspond to her various unattractive physical attributes: gray hair, two large moles, a unibrow, and a snaggle-tooth making her look like a stereotypical witch.
When all five lessons are learned, Nanny McPhee transforms from ugly to beautiful.

  • Lesson #1: To stop fighting - Upper wart disappears.
  • Lesson #2: To share - Lower wart disappears.
  • Lesson #3: To work together - Unibrow disappears
  • Lesson #4: To be brave - Hair goes from gray to brown.
  • Lesson #5: To have faith - Snaggle tooth disappears.

Now what exactly is that supposed to teach kids? That being "good" and disciplined is somehow directly connected to beauty? That by cleaning your room regularly and being friendly to people you can't stand, superficial attractiveness to other people can be achieved? I find that a very questionable and confusing message to send out to young kids.
Still I wouldn't over interpretate it. It's just very unnecessary, the whole plot would have worked just fine without it.

Verdict: Pass & Undecided

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Holes - Fail

Holes (2003, USA) is the movie adaption of the wonderful children's book written by Louis Sacher who also wrote the screenplay to this. It was directed by Andrew Davis and released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Stanley Yelnats IV (portrayed by Shia LaBeouf) blames his bad luck on an old family curse that strike all male family members. He is wrongfully committed for stealing shoes and is sent to a brutal detention camp where he has to dig holes in the desert. No one will tell him the real reason why they need to dig those holes, so he has to find out for himself.

While the book was entertaining, thrilling and thought-provoking, the movie version lacks all of this. It counts on cheap slapstick comedy and goofy acting which take all the serious atmosphere out of the movie and give the whole thing a very stale taste.

The movie fails the Bedchel test completely.
There are a few women: There is Stanley' mother, who doesn't have any role except serving food and sitting at the table while the men discuss the family curse.
There is the girl in the flashback of the family history, a dumb but pretty girl who doesn't want to marry Stanley's forefather for petty silly reasons.
There is Madame Zeroni, the lady to cast the family curse, who is seen in the flashback story. The same goes for Kate Barlow, a local school teacher who is in love with the black local onion seller Sam. When Sam kisses Kate, she is seen by a man she previously turned down. He leads several townspeople to burn the school down and kill Sam. In anger and frustration Kate kills the local sheriff because he had refused to intervene, beginning her career as an outlaw named "Kissin' Kate" who kisses the men she kills.

The only time two women are seen on the screen at the same time are when the female warden (Sigourney Weaver), a cruel and corrupt woman who only cares about money and doesn't mind seeing the boys suffer, and Stanley's lawyer Carla Morengo meet.
If not before at least here a conversation between two women would not only be possible, but would make a lot of sense! In fact, it's rather strange to see the lawyer not address the warden but her two male employees all the time. When she asks no one in particular for pen and paper, the warden tells Mr. Sir to hand those to the lawyer, yet not speaking, nor looking into her direction.

Verdict: Fail & Not Recommended

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Down By Law - Fail

Down by Law (USA,1986) is a black-and-white film by Jim Jarmusch.

Down By Law tells the story of three men.
At first their stories might seem unrelated.
Zack (wonderfully played by Tom Waits) is a disc jockey who's girlfriend just left him, with money problems and no idea where to go in his life.
Jack (John Lurie) on the other hand creates less sympathy in the viewer's mind as a ruthless pimp.
Bob (Roberto Benigni) is an Italien tourist whose understanding of the English language are restricted to textbook casualities.

The men all meet in a cell of jail in New Orleans. While Zack and Jack both have been set up and are not guilty – or in Jack's case, at least not for the crime he is there - , Bob has killed a man when he cheated on a card game.
While Zack and Jack fight a lot, through Bob's need to communicate constantly in his broken English they soon awkwardly bond. With a plan created by Bob thanks to an American movie displaying just this, they all escape.
They get lost and try to find their way on their own, the trio up together eventually.
They eventually find a house in the forest, the residence of Nicoletta (Nicoletta Braschi) who instantly falls in love with Bob, causing Bob to stay with her in the forest. Zack and Jack's ways seperate.

"Down By Law" has great characters, convincing actors, a good straight storyline, amusing scenes that don't seem added unnaturally but rather seem like they'd appear to in amusing moments in real life and a very mood-fitting slow-moving camera work.

I wish movies that I really liked wouldn't fail this but sadly they do, and this is one of them. Nicoletta does talk to the three men a bit, but there is no real character behind her, either, at least not from what we get to see. All we know about her is that she owns this house and gets confused about which path leads to the South or the North and that she loves Bob fully and completely, without even really knowing him.
The other women are a few prostitutes in Jack's bed and Zack's girlfriend, all very much serving into every female cliché there is. Not to mention that they all don't seem particularly smart...

Verdict: Fail & Recommended