I’ve been hitting the ol’ theaters hard this month, and I’ve found most of these movies to be decidedly satisfactory. I didn’t ‘love’ any of these, but I would say that if you’re interested in seeing them, you’ll probably enjoy them:
Hannah Arendt (2012) | Dir. Margarethe von Trotta | 113 min.
For what I’m going to assume is a low-budget biopic, I found Hannah Arendt to be interesting and engaging. I didn’t know a great deal about Hannah Arendt going into the movie, and I can’t say that leaving the movie, I felt as though I learned much about her. However, this movie is really more of a sympathetic presentation of her philosophical ideas, along with a less sympathetic (but I think fair) look at the emotional knee-jerk reactions they inspired.
This movie could have been great if perhaps it had a larger budget or at least a better cast; all of the German actors were wonderful, but the Americans were soap opera bad. There’s also some disjointed flashbacks that I don’t think were terribly effective or even all that coherent. At its worst, Hannah Ardent has a ‘made for TV’ feeling.
Overall, I did find this movie to be very engaging though. It gives you a very layered understanding of the backlash against her—part wild emotions, part human desire for black and white logic, part sexism, and part basic misunderstanding. Predictably, it’s a bit of a distressing movie, but not in the way most World War II-era movies are; I left this movie feeling depressed less about the Holocaust and more about the public rejection of her as a philosopher. It made me particularly resentful of society’s willful inability to see things in terms of gray instead of black and white.
I give Hannah Arendt three out of five stars. Unfortunately, it’s not worth much more than that, because of how flat half of this movie is. With better American actors, a less Hollywood-y ending, and more effective storytelling overall, it easily could have been a four star movie.
Frances Ha (2012) | Dir. Noah Baumbach | 86 min.
I wanted to like this movie more than I did, but that’s not to say that I didn’t like it.
Frances Ha is a coming-of-age film about that late twenties I-better-get-my-shit-into-gear period of life, that day you wake up and realize that living paycheck to paycheck on a couch isn’t nearly as dreamy or as cute as you once envisioned. Basically, this movie is a much better version of Lena Dunham’s Girls.
I’m really on the fence about how much I liked it. It held my interest, but I thought it was oddly entirely devoid of charm, considering it’s meant to be this homage of sorts to French New Wave. I get that Frances not being charming is a large part of the plot—she’s quintessentially ‘quirky’ and perpetually immature—but I felt that it took away from us really engaging with her as the main protagonist. Some of the situations she finds herself in are so over-the-top dumb (the dinner party scene, the France stuff in general) that you realize the movie is simply too conscious of its own consciousness. Yes, she’s trying very hard to be whimsical and she keeps failing at it, and she’s aware that she’s failing at it, and you’re aware that we’re aware. We get it. Get on with it.
I didn’t really care much as to where she ended up, though I didn’t not care enough to check my watch, so I guess the story does work on some level. Perhaps it was Greta Gerwig’s arguably lackluster performance that took away from it more so than the script. I know she’s an indie darling, but she didn’t do it for me at all.
Overall, I give this movie three out of five stars. It’s enjoyable, it’s not a bad movie per se, and it does a good job of keeping itself more grounded than precious. But personally, I probably will forget about it in a year.
The Bling Ring (2013) | Dir. Sofia Coppola | 90 min.
I am not a fan of Sofia Coppola, so I went into this movie with some sense of trepidation, but it surprised me by not being god awful. Something about it really works. I found The Bling Ring to be surprisingly layered, though perhaps not in the way it was intended to be. I mean, here you have a movie made by rich people about rich people stealing from rich people. The irony alone makes this movie worth watching. It’s an interesting reflection of our time, and society’s obsession with the ultra rich, along with the increasingly blurry line between reality and celebrity.
I will say though that one thing I fond very off putting about The Bling Ring is how negatively all of the women are portrayed. Obviously, all of these characters are loathsome and materialistic. I get that. That’s basically the whole movie. However, unlike the main male character Marc (Israel Broussard) all of the main female characters completely lack depth and personality. Marc, while portrayed as shallow and not particularly bright, is set up as a lost boy seduced by preying sirens. For a movie that’s supposed to be centered around a gang of mostly girls, this movie, for some reason, starts by following Marc’s story of how he gets taken in by the lifestyle of these ‘bad’ girls. The shots of him dancing goofily on his laptop’s PhotoBooth, and hanging out on his bed in high heels; the scenes of him with his ‘normal’ family; the parts where he’s advising these girls that they should be more careful; the part where he tells reporters he did it for love and a sense of community—a great deal of time is spent portraying him as a flawed but sympathetic three-dimensional character.
However, not a shred of this sympathy, or even a glimpse of understanding, is given to any of the girls. They’re all cliché archetypes: Rebecca (Katie Chang) is a psychopath kleptomaniac, Nicki (Emma Watson) is a pathological liar and manipulator, Chloe (Claire Julien) is shallow and stupid—there is not a single redeeming factor to any of them. They’re all lazily portrayed as ‘troubled’, ‘from a broken home’, or just purely manipulative creeps. Why exactly are they doing the things they do? I don’t know, because like, crazy women be liking shoes! LOL! But lets be honest, what did I really expect from Sofia Coppola anyhow… She loves flat, boring women who are used primarily as vehicles for their more interesting male counterparts.
Anyhow, all in all, I give The Bling Ring three out of five stars because, for the most part, I did enjoy watching it. Bonus complaint: for a movie that’s meant to take place in 2008-9, why is half the music from 2012-13?
Berberian Sound Studio (2012) | Dir. Peter Strickland | 92 min.
I went into this one expecting a sort of loving if not a little tongue-in-cheek tribute to the whole Italian Giallo film genre, but Berberian Sound Studio ended up being essentially the anti-horror film. This movie wants to be a mix between The Conversation and Funny Games, but never really gets there.
Watching the stiff-upper-lipped Gilderoy (Toby Jones) versus the emotional and moody Italians is fun, and the movie plays off of that dynamic very well in the beginning—but they never really move past that. Towards the middle, the plot starts to get stale, and then it sort of dissolves into bizarre surrealism that doesn’t really add to the movie at all in my opinion. (For the record, I’m usually all for the surrealism dissolve, but this time? Eh.) This movie is most effective when it’s playing it straight; the parts where questions are raised about sexism, exploitation, and paranoia are definitely the best parts of the movie.
And of course, this movie is also just a sound mixer’s wet dream. You find yourself becoming hyperaware of every single sound in the movie, and the sound does a great job of expressing the violence you never actually get to see on the screen. You feel creeped out in the right places, and for the first half at least, you definitely sense the steadily building discomfort through the screams, chops, crunches, and fizzles.
I give Berberian Sound Studio two-and-a-half out of five stars. It’s not a bad movie, and I like how it calls out these old horror movies for their real-world implications, but it unfortunately builds and then dissolves into a disappointing and borderline boring mess.