Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Crime of Monsieur Lange Review

I certainly don’t know French cinema well – at all – but the name Jean Renoir did sound familiar, most likely because he’s a very important figure in the history of cinema.  Being the globally-ignorant American teenager that I am, it’s hard for me to tell just what it was about Renoir that made him so unique or important.  That being said, I was pleased by the one film of his that I’ve seen, The Crime of Monsieur Lange.  Sadly, however, I would have to classify this film by a new term I’ve finally invented – tederesting – a combination of tedious and interesting.  This describes a work of art that has many elements that peak the viewer’s interest, make the viewer curious, or impress the viewer just enough that he/she is willing to put up with how tedious or boring many elements of it are, and I think this new word is exemplified quite well by this movie.

If I may, I’ll go ahead and spoil the big twist in the movie, largely because it’s very predictable anyway.  An evil businessman is reported dead, and the people in his publishing company come together to make ends meet, and while they end up making the company even more successful than before, it looks like their happiness is going to come to an end when it turns out that the businessman is still alive.  Apparently, this is supposed to present a strong socialistic message, but I just see it as a standard “greedy man = bad, selfless friends = good” kind of story.  Again, I do find the twist predictable, but the way Renoir reveals the twist (multiple times, actually, each retaining its dramatic effect) is certainly masterful.  The story doesn’t seem quite focused enough for my tastes, but there are still many elements of it that I like, from the moral questions it brings up, to the perfect portrayal of the villainous Batala, and to the theme of an author becoming the hero he’s written.  According the reviews I’ve seen on the internet, this film has a very good pace, but I must have missed that part while I was sleeping.  The story simply doesn’t have enough surprising or suspenseful twists and obstacles to fill its already measly 77-minute running time, but that somehow doesn’t keep it from being remarkably fascinating.

95 The Crime of Mr. Lange 2

The Motorcycle Diaries Review

I debated about whether or not I would review this film.  Keep in mind, I do not (at this time) review documentaries, mostly because I think approaching something that tries to accurately capture real history – or accurately capture a real person’s perspective on his/her history – is perhaps too great a task for me.  Assessing historical accuracy has never been my forte, and I I’m not sure how to review a story if that story is an unchangeable matter of fact.  Still, this movie is clearly not a documentary – it’s a fascinating “what if” movie that shows what a young, idealistic, quickly-evolving Che Guevara might have been like on his road trip through South America.  When viewed as such, it’s really quite fascinating.

This film breaks one of the rules of storytelling in a way, which polarizes the audience in terms of strength, effect, and maybe even aesthetic distance depending on what knowledge of Che the viewer has at the onset.  Generally, movies are very focused on set-ups and pay-offs, always making sure that every moment the audience sees will make the following scenes (and/or the previous scenes) more meaningful.  This film, however, is designed as a sort of prologue or prequel to the infamy of Che Guevara, so the set-ups for the irony, and arguably for the importance of each scene, are in all in the knowledge that the viewer supposedly has of what Che would become.  Fortunately, because I saw this movie in a film class, I was informed of Che’s legacy, controversy, and infamy, so I really enjoyed the movie.  However, had I not known who Che is, I would not have been able to enjoy the movie nearly as much – perhaps I would have hated it.  While I do think that this is a fun story that succeeds at opening up one’s mind to new ways of looking at history and the world, I must withhold my praise to some extent because the movie works best as a supplement to a separate story that the audience is left to figure out for themselves.

Still, after a tiny bit of research, this is a really different kind of road trip comedy that can be really enjoyable.

94 The Motorcycle Diaries

Alexander Nevsky Review

I haven’t reviewed many foreign films yet.  I know I’ve done my fair share of British movies, but Amelie and Passion have been my only reviews of films in foreign languages (to my memory).   I’m going to change this.  I expect to be bouncing around the globe for my next few reviews, and a good way to start a world tour of cinema is with Eisenstein.  Seeing as how this man’s work is taught in every film class, I was hoping that Alexander Nevsky, his classic 1938 epic about a war hero in the 1200s, would be a bit more … well, epic.

I’m faced with a serious problem here because this film has brought to the surface a conflict between my ideology and my views on art.  It has been my strong opinion for quite some time that a work of art should not be judged by its message alone, but by how well it conveys it.  For example, someone might agree with the general message or theme in God’s Not Dead, but he/she should still recognize that it’s a remarkably horrendous piece of angel dung.  Similarly, one does not have to be a racist to appreciate D.W. Griffith’s contributions to the cinematic arts as seen in Birth of a Nation.  In music, I can appreciate old rock songs that focus on men who don’t seem to be exceptionally respectful towards women.  (I should note that I’m not referring to particularly misogynistic songs, but instead songs such as “The Wanderer” or “Lightnin’ Strikes” that take infatuation to a rather uncomfortable level of objectification.  However, in all fairness, some songs from this time by female artists – The Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman,” for example – seem to indicate that this kind of attraction went both ways at the time.)  The key thing about song lyrics, however, is to be watchful of songs that are actually character studies, and often consequently period pieces, which are written and performed from the perspective of the character being analyzed and explored (not necessarily the artist’s view).

It only makes sense, then, that I would have to approach Alexander Nevsky with the same stance, focusing on the craft more than the conclusion, but alas, I am unable to appreciate anything about this film because I am so overwhelmed by its disgusting ideology.  I have spent much time pondering this, and I think I have realized a few factors that have been at play in my analysis of art.  The first factor is the way the film sees itself.  This may seem odd, but I think that movies nearly always have a way that they “feel” about their own contents, and while 2001: A Space Odyssey has a very conceited view of itself, Dr. Strangelove clearly thinks that the events it displays are absurd, and it critiques them for such.  So, Eisenstein could have made a movie that analyzed the people of the time period objectively (without sharing in their perspective or criticizing them), and he could have made it as a critique of their ways, but instead he played along with their loony nationalism and gave them the operatic choir they desired.  Secondly, if a work of art has a serious flaw in its point of view, I can still appreciate it as art if it supplies enough other elements that make me respect it in a different way.  “My Sweet Lord” redeems itself, and I therefore greatly appreciate it, but “Anaconda” offers no such merit, and therefore leaves us only with the words to be analyzed.

Lo and behold, there may not be as much contradiction in my views as I had feared.  I do think that Eisenstein did put together a work that is quite impressive, but not to the extent that it redeems its dogmatic, propagandic nature.  To its credit, it surprised me by taking a sharp turn in the way it handled the awkward (and somewhat sexist) storyline of the men who made a girl choose which of them would be her husband.  As it turns out, one of the men decides that he would rather be with a different woman – the one who fought bravely and competently in the battle.  This not only gives us a strong, courageous female character to enjoy, but also takes away a touch of the “shallow” feeling in the film’s romantic affairs.  Still, the redeeming quality throughout is bravery, and since I am no fan of bravery, I cannot comply to Eisenstein’s persistent demand that I wallow in the imagined elegance of prideful war.

93 Alexander Nevsky

Modern Times Review

It’s really quite fitting that Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times gets the review that follows my review of Brazil.  Each one is a crazy comedy that can get rather over the top, but each one is also a social commentary with something to say; namely, these films express frustration with the faulty technology that’s being thrust upon them.  This is somewhat noticeable when the Tramp has to work with a conveyor belt that goes too fast, and he ends up getting carried by the conveyor belt into the giant gears that run the machinery in the factory where he works.  However, when this attitude is most obvious is when the Tramp is strapped into a machine that feeds the factory workers lunch so that they don’t need to take a lunch break – which sounds just like something Gilliam would have loved to put into Brazil had the idea not been taken already – and of course, it goes berserk.  This kind of a film is to be expected from a man who had been very popular in the silent era, but now had virtually no choice but to make sound films (Modern Times being his first go at them).  This movie is fascinating because it shows what happens when the man who had universal appeal in silent cinema tries to make a part-talkie so he can adapt to… well, “modern times.”

Overall, I’d say Chaplin did a good job.  The story isn’t all that coherent, but since this film comes from an early time in the history of feature-length narrative film, and because the movie had to be tailored to fit the Tramp’s style, I’m willing to be quite forgiving about that.  As long as the comedy and the characters work, and as long as sound is used well, I think this movie did what it needed to do; I’d say these goals were all achieved.  I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed Ellen, his leading lady, who brought a lot of energy and excitement to the picture.  I was very fascinated by Chaplin’s depiction of the depression, which made me feel like I was looking at an entirely different world from our own.  While I don’t think the musical number towards the end is particularly enjoyable, and although I get bothered by how the film jumps around from one situation to a completely different one, I recommend this movie to anyone who likes part-talkies and loves big laughs.

92 Modern Times