Thursday, July 18, 2013

This vampire movie vapid

Perhaps it’s my bias against horror films, considering them more schlock than scary. And vampire movies have made me laugh at the usually utterly amateurish nature of the portrayals of said creepy former humans. But come on, Neil Jordan. Are you serious? Jordan, Irish filmmaker extraordinaire – okay that’s what the artsy critics think – in Byzantium, at the Main Art, has come out with a piece of convoluted tripe, that doesn’t work on even a non-horror level, as in, say, interesting storyline. Interesting? This is an utter bore for almost its two ungodly hours’ (is that mixing metaphors?). The plot is about two women Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) and Clara (Gemma Arterton) whom we soon discover are vampires over time – about 200 years’ worth. The women have unresolved conflicts, mainly related to their very historical pasts - as in the Napoleonic Wars. The movie switches back and forth between the present day – where the women are ensconced in a hotel gone to seed called the Byzantium – and the past, which happens to be in the same coastal town sans hotels, carnival rides, and motor cars. Clara sets the hotel up as a whorehouse and berates cerebral Eleanor, who has written about her travails, for not keeping up with the program. There are unresolved conflicts between these two as well, but since it’s critical to the plot I won’t give it away, if you deign to see it. But what’s the point, except, ha ha, for their pointed thumbnails, the better with which to stab their victims’ in the neck? I found the stories uninteresting. And couldn’t Jordan, supposedly the great insightful filmmaker, at least have used these characters as metaphors for something else: the oppression of women, women’s relationships with men? That might have made sense given the plotlines of romance and whoredom. But, nope. Just straight one dimensional stories. Some of the words I scribbled while watching: tedious, painful to watch, farcical. Like when the waterfalls on the rock island turn red with blood. Ayyyyyy! A little digital colourization there, Neil? And the clichéd fast car scene struggle at the end of the movie, which is laughable. The only thing half decent is the women’s acting, but that’s submerged in a cascade of, ah, bloody clichés, if you get my point.  Okay, enough.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The summer's romantic hit

Shakespeare’s (I wanted to say Joss Whedon’s) Much Ado About Nothing, at the Birmingham 8, is a delightful hit, one of the best things on this summer. If you want romantic comedy just come and see this. But brush up on your Shakespeare first. Yes, this is The Bard’s Much Ado in all its Elizabethan prose, though set in contemporary southern California (shot in under two weeks at director Whedon’s Santa Monica mini-mansion). For Whedon fans (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other TV series like Angel and Firefly) and last year’s The Avengers, this is a highly different departure. But it’s not surprising that the immensely-talented Whedon, who also wrote the superb score – incorporating music from Shakespeare himself - is up to the task. After all, he used to do Shakspeare readings in this very same home. The cast are all Whedon alumni with most having extensive movie and TV credits, and no doubt you’ll recognize many of them from somewhere. Adding to the magic is that this film is shot in black and white. Why did Whedon make it? He wanted to show how romantic love often takes place within society’s strictures. “It’s a very cynically romantic text about love, and how we behave, and how we’re expected to behave.” Of course romantic love 400 years ago was a little bit more straitjacketed than it is today. Much Ado is all about deception. The main story is about Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and the subsidiary romantic tale is about Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese) though the latter’s marriage is the plot’s general focal point. The play opens with Beatrice and Benedick soon at odds with one another. And has there ever been a woman with such biting wit? I don’t think I’ve ever come across lines as withering as those Shakespeare installed in Beatrice’s character. What’s remarkable about the play is that Beatrice is a woman for the ages, a feminist heroine hundreds of years before her time, with a searingly modern vision. Acker is fine though I wish she could have been a little more biting. Denisof is a hoot as a very classy, if outwitted, romantic foil. The film even has a Big Chill (Lawrence Kasdan, 1983) element to it, as the friends gather over a few days and seem to do nothing but socialize in various groupings in and around the rambling house, constantly refilling their wine glasses. If you know the story, go. If you don’t, it’s worthwhile reading the text or even a synopsis, for doing so will compound this movie’s enjoyment.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Taut, nuanced peephole into Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The Attack (Ziad Doueiri), opening Friday at the Uptown Palladium 12 in Birmingham, is a respectably nuanced treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict told through two principal characters: an Israeli-assimilated Arab, and his wife, a Palestinian who surreptitiously remains married to the cause. Amin (Ali Suliman) is a highly successful Tel Aviv surgeon. The film opens with him winning the country’s top medical prize, a slightly self-conscious example of the Israeli tolerance extended to its Arab citizens. Strangely, his wife Siham (Reymonde Amsellem) has not joined him. But she calls his cell phone just as he’s about to accept the award and he tells her he cannot speak. The next day, over lunch, on the hospital balcony, Amin and his colleagues hear a bomb go off. Dozens of people – mainly children – are rushed to his hospital. They’re the victims of a suicide bombing. The Shabak (Israeli security) immediately suspects his wife, whom Amin had seen off on a bus to the Palestinian territories to visit her family the day before. Of course he doesn’t believe them and thinks he’s being stereotyped and scapegoated. His interrogator condescendingly says Siham “also destroyed all the trust Israel has placed on its Arab citizens.” Amin reads a letter she sent him prior to the attack and it turns out she indeed did the bombing. Outraged, Amin travels to Nablus to find out how his wife was recruited. He’s led into a dark world where Islamic politics wash up against Palestinian nationalism, and finds she was radicalized by the Jenin Massacre of 2002. I was worried this film would offer a black and white depiction of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but it (based on the novel by Yasmina Kahdra) is smartly more complex. One weakness is the opening scene, a plot device that doesn’t work very well. It’s a little too pat to have Amin go from one night being the toast of Israeli medicine to soon being a suspect in a terrorist bombing. And Amin’s eventual decision to take a side doesn’t seem supported enough by what he learned during his exploration of why his wife became a suicide bomber. Nevertheless, the film is taut, the acting is fine, and this is a quite realistic glimpse into the duality of Israeli-Palestinian societies, with great urban visuals on both side of the Israeli “Security Fence.”