Monthly Archives: November 2013

#239 The Ice Storm

(1997, Ang Lee)

“Your family is the void you emerge from, and the place you return to when you die”

Movies about suburban discord aren’t unusual, since there’s something very seedy about the shiny, happy image of identical houses and perfectly trimmed gardens, with all sense of a dark side hidden away. We saw this exploration in American Beauty, but it was far from the first movie of its kind. In 1997, Ang Lee adapted Rick Moody’s novel of suburban breakdown at the end of the 1970s, The Ice Storm, and turned it into the movie we’ll be taking a look at today.

The movie centres around two neighbouring families living in Connecticut, the Hoods and the Carvers. Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) and Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver) are having an affair, although not one that’s filled with much passion, and Elena Hood (Joan Allen) suspects something but wants Ben to admit it himself.

Meanwhile, the Hoods’ son, Paul (Tobey Maguire) is returning home for Thanksgiving but intends to head back up to New York briefly to try and win over a girl named Libbets Casey (Katie Holmes). The daughter, Wendy Hood (Christina Ricci), is experimenting with her sexuality and plays sexual games with the Carvers’ sons, Mikey (Elijah Wood) and Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd).

Surrounding all this is the Watergate scandal, signifying the changing political landscape, and of course, the oncoming ice storm of the title.

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#238 Persona

(1966, Ingmar Bergman)

“You should go on with this part until it is played out, until it loses interest for you”

Oh, Ingmar Bergman. You crazy Swede, with your vague films about things with incomprehensible images and people looking moody. What can I possibly say about your films without sounding like a philistine who doesn’t get TRUE ART? Well, guess we’ll find out as I take a look at Persona, which sadly doesn’t feature any disco ninja frogs or tomboyish schoolgirls obsessed with steak.

Persona primarily features two cast members, and barely anybody else. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a mental health nurse who is instructed to watch over Elisabet Volger (Liv Ullman), an actress who one day just stopped talking. During a stay at a holiday cottage to allow Elisabet to recover, Alma struggles to cope and talks constantly to counter Elisabet’s silence. During the course of the film, their roles often end up reversed, with Alma becoming the distraught mental patient seeking answers from another.

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#237 The Red Shoes

(1948, Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)

“A dancer who relies on the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer”

Ballet is an obsessive art, as has been pointed out many times over the years. One of the more recent works to demonstrate this was the excellent Black Swan, where Natalie Portman steadily lost her mind due to her obsessive dedication to her dreams of being a great dancer. But it’s not a new story. Back in 1948, The Archers produced a movie about ballet and tied it into Hans Christian Andersen’s cautionary tale of vanity, The Red Shoes.

The Red Shoes stars Moira Shearer as Victoria Page, a girl who wants to become a great ballet dancer. After being snapped up by top ballet producer Boris Lermentov (Anton Walbrook) where she is eventually cast as lead dancer in a ballet based on the aforementioned fairy tale. The music is being composed by a talented young composer named Julian Craster (Marius Goring), and he and Page begin a romantic affair. However, due to the demands of Lermentov, Page must choose between Craster and her career as a dancer.

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#235 & #236 Pulp Fiction & Kill Bill Vol. 1

(1994/2003, Quentin Tarantino)

“You and I have unfinished business”


So, back in the Reservoir Dogs review, I mentioned that I’m not a fan of Quentin Tarantino. I generally give Reservoir Dogs the benefit of the doubt, feeling that it’s a more complete movie than his other works, but I’m less inclined to do so with his other movies. And so, with that, it’s time to explain exactly why I feel that Tarantino is massively overrated with a double review of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill Vol. 1.

Pulp Fiction’s plot has a lot going on. It centres around a crime syndicate led by a man named Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). In a series of interconnected stories, Wallace sends his men, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), to put out a hit on some guys who wronged him, Vega then looks after Wallace’s wife Mia (Uma Thurman), and a boxer named Butch (Bruce Willis) has to decide whether to win his latest fight or take Wallace’s offer to throw the fight for vast sums of cash.

Kill Bill’s story is much more clear-cut. In a two-part movie, a woman known only as The Bride (Uma Thurman), promises revenge on the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad that she used to be a part of, after they killed her husband and unborn child and left her for dead. In Vol. 1, The Bride’s primary targets are Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) and the leader of the Japanese underworld, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu).

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#234 Faces

(1968, John Cassavetes)

“I don’t feel like getting depressed tonight”

There have been a lot of independent arty films lately here on SvTM. We had the incomprehensible The Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky and the rather strange experimental version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice by Jan Svankmejer, and now it’s time for a serious American effort. This one’s about disintegrating marriages and the failure of the American Dream. Or something. It’s Faces, directed by Rosemary’s Baby star John Cassavetes.

Faces tells the story of Richard (John Marley) and Maria (Lynn Carlin) Forst, a married couple who turn to cheating to find happiness in their increasingly loveless marriage. Richard falls for a high class call girl named Jeannie (Gena Rowlands) while Maria spends the evening with friends and a self-professed playboy they met in a bar. Cue lots of drunken conversations and arguments. And very little else.

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#233 Alice

(1988, Jan Svankmajer)
Něco z Alenky

“Now you will see a film made for children…perhaps”

Alice In Wonderland is a truly iconic children’s story, and I personally have a fondness for it, as I’m sure many others do. But despite its fame as a children’s story, it can easily be read as a horrific nightmare drug trip without changing a single word in it. And this dichotomy of Lewis Carroll’s classic certainly wasn’t lost on Jan Svankmajer when he made Alice.

You should already know the story of Alice In Wonderland, but for those who don’t, welcome to Earth, intergalactic visitors. It’s about a girl named Alice who goes to a place called Wonderland, oddly enough.

She gets there when a White Rabbit in a jacket rushing past her complaining about being late while examining a pocket watch. In traditional versions, Alice follows the rabbit down a rabbit hole and lands in Wonderland, where she experiences a series of adventures, but in Svankmajer’s version, Alice (Kristýna Kohoutová) follows the rabbit into a stationery drawer. And that’s not the only way it differs.

Where other versions of Alice placed a young girl in a dazzlingly colourful environment with gumdrop trees and sprawling gardens, Svankmajer’s Alice places her in a dilapidated mansion filled with creaky antiques that come to life and do weird things. Also, where other adaptations take the “wonder” part of the title as their entire design document and make everything all charming and happy, Svankmajer seemingly decided to use Carroll’s possible opium trip as the basis for his version.

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#232 The Mirror

(1974, Andrei Tarkovsky)
Зеркало (Zerkalo)

“It seems to make me return to the place, poignantly dear to my heart”

If there’s anything I seriously struggle to review here on SvTM, it’s bizarre semi-autobiographical art films made in Europe. There’s something incomprehensible about these kinds of films, since they tend to rely on symbolism over plot, and sometimes that symbolism is wrapped up so tightly it’s hard to unravel it all until something that makes sense. On that note, let’s take a look at The Mirror.

The Mirror is essentially a stream of consciousness movie, jumping throughout various memories, dreams and experiences of a mysterious person we never see, with a focus on a woman named Maria (Margarita Terehkova) who takes on a variety of roles.

And that’s everything that I could get from this movie’s “plot”. The movie has absolutely no structure or coherence to its events. Things just kind of happen, and it’s up to us as the viewer to put the pieces together. The movie opens on a boy being “healed” of his stuttering problem, before cutting to a strange businessman talking to Maria, who’s sitting on a fence.

As we move through the film, she’s seen staring into a mirror and seeing herself as an old woman, rummaging through what seems to be a newspaper office for something important during war time (I think), and fighting with her husband. There’s also a bizarre section where a boy named Ignat keeps seeing strange people hanging around the apartment he’s in before ending up as some kind of child soldier.

I’m not sure what Tarkovsky was trying to achieve with this movie, and as such it makes it hard to know what to say about it. There’s a definite dream-like quality to the movie, and if the aim was to be an ethereal dream without meaning, then he succeeded admirably. Nothing really pieces together well and nothing is ever really resolved. It leaves tons of questions, and things often feel distant. Just like in a dream, then.

Sadly, even if it’s achieved a dream-like state, The Mirror did very little to keep me engaged. Because nothing is connected, everything feels incredibly inconsequential. It feels pointless to pay attention to anything that happens, because it has no relevance to what happens in the next scene, and instead of engaging the viewer directly, it asks the viewer to force themselves to be engaged.

The constant shifting locations and name changes given to characters also serve to make the film horribly disorientating. It feels like there are several movies on different channels and I’m flicking between them all at random. Just as I was absorbing the information from the opening scenes at the farmhouse, it switches to the printers’ offices and everything that happened before was seemingly dropped, never to be seen again.

It gets worse when the movie suddenly switches to groups of teenage boys being trained as soldiers, with no obvious presence of Terehkova’s character, who up to that point had seemed like the central character, the anchor that held everything in place.

The Mirror is a difficult film that challenges constantly but offers little in the way of clues or assistance in unravelling its mysteries. Perhaps a good film for the arthouse crowd to pick apart, but not a movie to sit and watch casually.

Starring Margarita Terehkova, Ignat Daniltsev, Larisa Tarkovskaya, Alla Demidova, Anatoli Solonitsyn & Tamara Ogorodnikova
Written by Aleksandr Misharin & Andrei Tarkovsky
Produced by Erik Weisberg
Music by Eduard Artemyev
Cinematography by Georgi Rerberg
Edited by Lyudmila Feiginova

Favourite Scene: The scene with Ignat seeing strange people in an apartment was interesting and made me believe the film was turning into some kind of psychological thriller.
Scene That Bugged Me: Why the child soldiers, exactly? Did I miss something?

Watch it if: You like your arty semi-autobiographical movies
Avoid it if: You’d rather get your dreams from sleeping

#231 Crash

(2004, Paul Haggis)

“I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”

Racism is bad. Like, really, really bad. Did you know that if you’re a racist, you’re basically Hitler? Hitler was a racist, and he even killed people because he was a racist. I don’t think you’re aware of just how bad racism is, and for that you need to be given a stern talking to and be made to sit down and watch Crash.

Crash is about an ensemble cast of characters dealing with racism and cultural divides and misunderstandings that arise from those two really, really bad things that should be broken down at the earliest opportunity. It’s set during a single day in LA, and culminates around car crashes.

Don Cheadle is a detective estranged from his mother. Sandra Bullock is the shallow wife of the district attorney, and incredibly suspicious of non-white people after being mugged by Ludacris, who is paranoid about being a victim of racism to the point where he has become incredibly racist himself against white people. Matt Dillon is an incredibly racist police officer who recently abused his power on Terrence Howard, who is a film director trying to come to terms with some of the poor racial attitudes of the people around him. Plus some other things happen. There’s a lot going on.

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