what i watched

Snowpiercer (Joon-ho Bong, 2013). When I first saw this in 2015, I was still at the beginning of my fascination with recent Korean film. I've often wanted to share those films with my wife, but at least when we are at home, we're limited by subtitles (she doesn't object to subtitles, but she is usually knitting as we watch, so being able to understand dialogue without looking at the screen matters). Snowpiercer is said to be 80% English (who did the accounting on this factoid?), and beyond that, it's the kind of movie I think my wife would like: futuristic sci-fi action with a recognizable cast led by Chris "Captain America" Evans. As I noted at the time, you wouldn't go to Snowpiercer for an introduction to modern Korean cinema ... it’s more American than Korean. But that makes it a good introduction for someone who is knitting. (She has also seen Boon's Okja, and liked it.) #476 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. For some reason, I buried some of my best thinking about Snowpiercer in a tagged-on paragraph the first time I wrote about it, so I'll cut-and-paste a bit of that here, changing my original focus:

The construction of Snowpiercer is ingenious ... it’s also perfect for a good six-page essay in an honors class for college undergraduates. The class structure presented in the film is clearly delineated, and while you could watch Snowpiercer simply as an entertaining action movie, it is almost impossible to miss the underlying themes about class. That’s why it would make a good topic for an undergraduate essay: there is something to talk about, but it isn’t hard to find. It would also make a good topic for an extended essay that closely broke down the presentation of class, critically analyzing what Bong has done. But I’m not going to write either of these on this blog, not a six-page essay, not a chapter for a book. I’m going to write a paragraph, or two or three. And in the case of Snowpiercer, once I’ve mentioned the basics, I don’t see the point in adding a paragraph to state the obvious: that the cars on the train represent various social classes, that even if the nominal hero manages to take the train away from the nominal villain, nothing concerning classes will have been truly answered, that the two young people who escape the train are the future because they don’t conquer the train, they escape it. I could say all that, but if you watch the movie, you’ll figure it out for yourself. And unless I’m prepared to write 2500 words on the subject, I’m better off just sticking to a paragraph.

The Nerdwriter offers an interesting (spoiler-filled) take on the movie:

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974). Fear Eats the Soul continues my very gradual introduction to the work of Fassbinder. (I watched my first, The Marriage of Maria Braun, in 2009, and my second, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, in 2015.) Still to come is Berlin Alexanderplatz, the 14-part, 15 1/2-hour long TV series which I have had on my By Request list for a very long time ... it has been hard to find, but now it's on the Criterion Channel so I don't have any excuses. I feel like I'm still searching for the common thread in what Fassbinder I've seen. Not that it doesn't exist, but watching three films over the course of ten years is not conducive to the discovering of commonality. I've liked them all. The story of a May-December romance (better described as June-November, I think), Fear Eats the Soul doesn't limit the examination of difference to the ages of the two romantic leads. Brigitte Mira, who plays Emmi, a woman in her 60s, had already had a long career in show business, but it was Ali that made her something of a household name in Germany. (She went on to become a Fassbinder regular and lived another 30 years.) Emmi is a realist who is surprised to find herself in love with Ali, a couple of decades younger than her. Ali is also surprised, but their affection seems genuine. Ali is played by El Hedi ben Salem, who like his character is a Moroccan living in Germany (in real life, Salem had moved to Germany to be in a relationship with Fassbinder). The film takes place a few months after the massacre at the Munich Olympics, and Arabs are the victims of prejudice in part because of that event. Thus, the struggles of the couple are not limited to their age difference. Emmi's family and workmates all disapprove of her marrying an Arab, and as problems arise in the relationship, the reasons are less because they are different ages and more because they come from different cultures. Salem's acting is amateurish, which works well here, emphasizing the awkward state of living outside your culture. And mention should be made of Barbara Valentin, "the German Jayne Mansfield", who underplays her oozing sexuality and serves as a visual and emotional contrast to Emmi. This movie is said to be based on Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, but I think the connection is more that Fassbinder was influenced by Sirk than that the specific movies are tied together (although they do have similar basic plots). #135 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

oscar run xii: la vie en rose (olivier dahan, 2007)

I'm not sure what a filmmaker is supposed to do with the life of Edith Piaf. That life was piled with misery ... is it considered spoilerish if you recount the events of a famous person's life? Dumped by first her mother and then her father, raised in a whorehouse, temporarily blind, put to work singing on the street, a mentor killed by mobsters of her acquaintance, a car crash that leaves her dependent on morphine, a love affair that ends when the man dies in a plane crash, and the gradual deterioration of her body from alcohol and drug abuse so that she dies in her 40s but at the end looks like she's in her 90s. If D.W. Griffith told this story in a 1913 silent, we would watch it today and feel like it was very dated. But one can't complain about the narrative in La Vie en rose, because it really happened.

Which doesn't change the fact that 141 minutes of this kind of piling-on misery becomes a bit much. (For those of you counting at home, that's 1.78 Booty Calls worth of running time.) Sure, it really happened, and no, I don't have a solution to the problem, or even know if a solution is necessary. But there is no real arc to her life story ... it sucked from beginning to end, she rose above the suckiness on occasion, but events transpired to send her life downwards again and again. From this, she seems to have found an artistic strength that allowed her to convey the passions of her life through song, but that's not a story, it's a comment. Director Olivier Dahan chops up the narrative in search of the arc that doesn't really exist, and finds an appropriate end, as Piaf sings one of her signature songs about having no regrets, but by that point, we've spent almost two and a half hours watching poor Edith, and that's about an hour and a half too much.

Marion Cotillard is terrific in the leading role. She knocks the best stuff out of the park ... sure, some of those scenes have "let's win an award" written all over them, but Cotillard's far too good in the movie to allow such quibbles.

I'm pretty sure I'm complaining about nothing, here. The movie is fine, Cotillard is much more than fine, and you can't very well change the events of Edith Piaf's life just to please Steven Rubio. Cotillard deserves her Best Actress nomination, the Best Makeup nom is also on the money, and as for Best Costumes, I'm too clueless to know anything about that one. But when a movie is honored for one great acting job, makeup, and costumes, but not for directing or writing or cinematography or supporting actors ... well, you've got a movie well worth seeing, but you don't have a classic.

hellboy (guillermo del toro, 2004)

Hellboy was effectively made, carried a nice balance of action, humor and a touch of pathos, and I want to give it a fine review. But the truth is I had trouble staying awake during the long setup ... it felt like the first episode of a teevee series, albeit one with a big budget and clever skills behind the camera. It was kinda like an X-Men spin-off, but not quite as good. It was a higher-class version of Swamp Thing with Adrienne Barbeau, only without Adrienne Barbeau.