Updates and other news

As you may have noticed, updates here at Commentarium have lately (or perhaps always) come in bursts. One of the reasons for that is that we’re working on several big projects; the other is that we would rather provide you with interesting content than with generic nonsense or information and gossip reposted from the IMDb.

These gaps can, however, become a little too large, and it would be silly to pretend that the only thing that’s interesting on the internet is our articles. So we will try to post interesting links or shorter articles every now and then, but only when something is genuinely noteworthy or fascinating. Feel free to send us suggestions!

Another thing we’d like to do is support independent filmmakers. We know all too well how difficult it is to be an indie – we’re in that situation ourselves, and in multiple artforms at that. Any tiny bit of exposure helps, even if only in the form of encouragement. That does not mean we’ll be promoting any indie material that comes our way, no matter how bad; but we’ll gladly watch anything people have to offer, and do interviews and the like. Again, suggestions or queries are very welcome. We’re nice and approachable and not particularly pretentious.

Finally, note that RSS feeds of Commentarium are available in the sidebar menu – they weren’t there when we first changed themes, but we have been reminded that people use them and have thus put them back where they belong. Enjoy!

Tucker & Dale vs Evil

by Jonas Kyratzes

There is a scene in Tucker & Dale vs Evil which made me laugh so hard that I almost passed out.

Read that again, and understand that it’s not an exaggeration. I laughed so hard, so loudly, and for so long, that my poor blob of a body almost fainted. I don’t know when I last laughed so much – probably in Black Dynamite – but it’s been a while. And to be clear: I do not enjoy the infantile humour of Judd Apatow movies or Scary/Epic/Whatever Movie. I love a really silly joke, but only a strong belief in pacifism keeps me from hunting down and killing the Farrelly brothers for the filmic atrocities they have committed. A genuinely funny scene takes a great deal of intelligence and effort to pull off. Timing, performance, and writing all have to come together in exactly the right way for it to work. If you’ve ever acted in or directed a comedy on the stage, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Making people laugh, seriously laugh, not just snicker, is not easy.

In other words, Tucker & Dale vs Evil is bloody brilliant.

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Had enough of Monsters?

Have you had enough of reading the Monsters review? We left it at the top for a while to make sure people read it – we really love this movie, and want as many people as possible to see it without misconceptions.

And now back to our scheduled content.

Monsters

by Jonas Kyratzes

Every once in a while there is a movie that can only be described as awesome. Awesome in the original sense of the word: “Inspiring awe or admiration or wonder.” A movie so full of truth, executed with such skill and such belief in the work, that experiencing it is like being transported to another reality and coming back a different person. Monsters is such a movie.

The setting is simple enough: in the very near future, alien life forms have accidentally been set free on Earth, and have spread in what is called the “infected zone,” which is a large part of Mexico. The United States have responded by building a gigantic wall and by regularly bombing the creatures. Shortly before the borders are to be locked down for several months, a journalist is tasked by his rich boss to accompany the boss’s daughter back home. The trip eventually takes them through the infected zone.

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A Little Project

The Monsters review isn’t done yet, so here’s something else I’ve been thinking about for a while.

As you may or may not know, I am not a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. It’s not that I have a problem with adaptations per se – I don’t – or that I think The Lord of the Rings is unadaptable. I just think Jackson’s adaptations are not even remotely true to the spirit of the novel, even if so many geeks think that the presence of elves and dwarves (or rather caricatures thereof) somehow counts as faithfulness. But precisely because of the blind adoration of so many geeks and critics, the movies get praise for aspects that are crappy by even the most objective of standards, like the shoddy CGI (while movies that actually look good and consistent get shouted down for not using “bigatures”).

But it’s not really the CGI that bothers me. What bothers me is the ineptness of the presentation and the way the writers have gone out of their way to invert the meaning and values of the original story, in some cases making the false accusations of racism the books are often slandered with actually come true.

Now, good things have been written about this subject. Not as many as I’d like, but I’ve seen some excellent essays and articles – one series of essays in particular, hosted in some subsection of a now-gone website called Odd Lots, was particularly excellent. But, as the previous sentence implies, some of these essays are now being lost, or are getting harder to find. This should not be. So what I’d like to do is to put together lots of links in one place, and more importantly host copies of those essays that are in danger of disappearing from the net forever.

It is quite likely an archive of links already exists, and if I find one that is particularly great, I won’t make another one. But I’d certainly love to create a place for keeping alive some of the wonderful contributions that will otherwise fall prey to Time and his Hounds.

If you have any links or suggestions to share, please let me know!

The Last Airbender

by Jonas Kyratzes

I think I can safely say that M. Night Shyamalan is the most unfairly-treated director in the history of the medium. After The Sixth Sense turned into a giant hit, he was basically doomed. Despite the fact that the movie’s twist ending was never its point (or the reason it was good), every single one of his subsequent movies was seen only in terms of twists, even when there weren’t any. And his every single movie gets trashed, no matter what it’s like. Remember when it was fashionable to bash Ben Affleck, no matter whether his performances were good or not? That’s what it’s been like for Shyamalan, movie after movie after movie.

Not that all of them were equally good – The Happening was a good B-movie, with some truly excellent scenes, but it was certainly a lesser film. It does tell you something about the irrational hatred people are carrying in them these days, though, that the most derided scene from that movie (“talking to a plant”) is actually a fairly clever joke about the entire premise of the movie- something which people, in their desire to bash Shyamalan, seem to completely miss.

The Last Airbender was also trashed to within an inch of its life, and I don’t really see why. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s also not the garbage reviewers make it out to be. It has some major flaws: the female protagonist is played by an unbearably bad actress, the story is so obsessed with keeping as much plot from the TV series as possible that it becomes episodic and slightly incoherent, and the voiceover narration is extremely amateurish. There are also writing problems, many of which stem directly from the TV series.  But there are also good actors of refreshingly diverse cultural backgrounds (the people accusing this movie of being racist are insane*), beautiful photography, great music, and a couple of really nice fight scenes. It’s an enjoyable couple of hours, especially for children.

The Last Airbender may not be as brilliant as The Village or Lady in the Water, but it’s a decent little fantasy movie that does not deserve the critical scorn it got. Certainly not in a world where Solomon Kane and its army of bald stormtroopers are praised to the heavens and there’s another Transformers sequel coming. Even when The Last Airbender fails, at least it’s trying to do something good, something a little more meaningful and elegant. That it doesn’t always work is a shame, but let’s keep things in perspective here.

*Some more up-to-date thoughts on that subject here.

Interesting links:

The Royal Tenenbaums

by Jonas Kyratzes

The Royal Tenenbaums is better than Rushmore. That’s not saying much, but it is true. Somewhere in this mess of insufferable clichés and forced eccentricity are the sparks of talent that eventually led to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Despite all the postmodern nonsense, the stereotypical characters and the lack of connection to any kind of reality, there are moments when the film is actually good. Short moments, granted, but short moments are better than no moments.

Mostly, though, it’s insufferable bullshit.

The problem with the movie is that it’s a character-oriented story with no characters. Instead of characters, it has a cast of caricatures; few of them are likeable, and none of them are realistic in any sense of the word. Where it has potential to be touching, it destroys any real emotions by making its characters into jokes; where it has potential to be intelligent, it is simply too affected and too lazy to give any real depth.

Particularly offensive is the character of Margot Tenenbaum, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Here we have someone who is supposedly an artist, a playwright – a genius, in fact. And yet all we see is a self-involved, pointlessly promiscuous “quirky” depressive with no vision, no passion and no real reason to be that way other than superficial “daddy issues.” One generally does have to wonder at the depiction of women, both here and in Rushmore, as entirely passive figures, either saints or sluts.

And let’s not even get into the weirdness that is Pagoda, Royal Tenenbaum’s handy Indian servant, who apparently has no life of his own.

The Royal Tenenbaums is simply too far removed from reality to be good. Not because of its subject matter, or even because of its aesthetics, but simply because it’s not about real people or real emotions. There are glimpses of reality in some scenes, especially the ones with Gene Hackman and Anjelica Houston, but to some degree that is simply because these two actors are fantastically skilled. (Though even if the characters were more realistic, it would take a very talented and perceptive writer to make these rich people’s problems interesting.)

When Wes Anderson makes movies that aren’t yelling “look at me! look at me! I’m so quirky!” all the time, and starts portraying some adult emotions, he can be a very good filmmaker. The Royal Tenenbaums, unfortunately, is not one of those movies.

Interesting links: