Russian Ark (2002)

Russian Ark
Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov
Written by Svetlana Proskurina, Aleksandr Sokurov, Anatoli Nikiforov, Boris Khaimsky
(number 364)

I did mean to see this in the film festival when it came out, back in 2002 but I didn’t manage it for whatever reason. It’s one that people talk about when they talk about long shots, which is a cinema trope I enjoy a lot.

This is such an arthouse film. It just, it couldn’t be more arthouse. Now first up, I know very little about history and I know even less about Russian history, so I’m sure there’s a lot of aspects of the things shown in this movie that I just didn’t get. But for the most part this doesn’t matter, because the movie is lush and the Marquis/Man in black explains some things in case they’re important.

The breathtaking thing about this movie is the spectacle. First the all in one take and secondly the lush location, third the costuming.

The spectacle is incredible. So many people in these beautiful costumes, perfectly made up and coiffed and moving through this astoundingly beautiful winter palace, which looks like a cross between Versailles and the Vatican. We get to see and appreciate some priceless pieces of art; paintings and sculptures and historical figures. The lighting is perfect, there’s no moment where the style is compromised. No small task given how it was filmed….

According to wikipedia: “According to In One Breath, the documentary on the making of the film, four attempts were made. The first failed at the five-minute mark. After two more failed attempts, they were left with only enough battery power for one final take. The four hours of daylight available were also nearly gone. Fortunately, the final take was a success and the film was completed at 90 minutes.” It’s mind boggling to imagine the set up and the control and the timing of it all.

Does it make me love the people? It sort of made me love the Marquis, he reminded me of a cross between John Malkovich and the dandelion haired gentleman from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. But it’s not a movie about the human condition or getting to know characters particularly. It’s about the lush creation of a piece of cinematic art.

Bechdel test: No, to be honest there’s very few named characters at all. It’s funny because right at the start there are two women who talk to each other about the ball and where to go, but as with many of the people encountered no names are given.

Best line:

The Stranger: Let’s proceed with caution. These madmen could eat us.
The Time Traveller: They liked your hair.
The Stranger: Of course, I’m a writer. Writer’s always have good hair.

State of Mind: It got sort of boring towards the end. I found the style of filming to make me feel somewhat dreamy, which made me sleepy. I might watch it again, but I do need to be in the right frame of mind for it I think.

Watched movie count

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Romper Stomper (1992)

Romper Stomper
Written and directed by Geoffrey Wright
(number 392)

I’ve been putting this one off for a while. It’s one of those movies which I told myself I never have to see, because I know I don’t like racism and skinheads beating people up without having to see a movie about it. However, it’s on the list so here I go. I have chosen a sunny Spring Saturday, the first sunny weekend day we’ve had for weeks, to watch it. I’ve already done something like five loads of laundry, brought much of the laundry back in, aired and dry, and sorted outsome of my planters with new seeds and two little new strawberry plants. Plus I planted my ‘little garden‘ seeds, which is very exciting. In short, I feel calm, domestic, like I’m getting things done and in a pretty fine place to watch a nasty movie.

Roll on Russell Crowe.

Okay so yes, that was more or less what I expected it to be. It’s a hard watch, maybe a bit of an easier watch than American History X in terms of the amount of violence shown/level of budget. There’s a lot of violence in this, but it’s not shown with such precision, it’s a lot more street brawl; inelegant and brutal, whereas the way American History X is filmed there’s a lot of detail in the violence, so as a viewer you see exactly what’s happening. It’s much nastier to watch.

It’s filmed with that raw film festival/low budget almost documentary style feel to it. Lots of long, lingering shots. Following the action for what feels like too long to me.

Does it make me love the people? This one’s tricky. I didn’t like Gabrielle… but I didn’t want bad things to happen to her. I think mostly I liked Davey, although this is pushing it as well, since I really didn’t like what he did most of the movie. Still, his was the redemption arc, so he was who you were meant to be rooting for.

Russell Crowe’s Hando was awful, as expected. The irredeemable racist leader of the skinhead pack. Forever ready to get violent just because of how someone looks. It’s a great performance though, he does bring gravitas and some sort of sensitivity to the role.

Bechdel test: Yeah, Megan and Tracy talk about hair dye, and one of them talks to Gabrielle about whether or not they should join in the fight with the Vietnamese.

Best line:

We came to wreck everything and ruin your life.

State of Mind: Bleh. I feel tense afterwards, even after having a couple of breaks in the film to hang out the last bit of washing or scrounge something to eat. It’s a grimy film full of mean people which doesn’t make for pleasant viewing, and it’s not at all intended to be pleasant…so it achieves that. I won’t be watching that again.

Watched movie count

300 (2006)

300
Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
(number 342)

This is a movie which wears what it is on its sleeve. It’s about men! Men being hard! and fighting for no good reason! Because they’re so hard and fighty. I remember first seeing this movie and knowing I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. What I did was a read Cleolinda’s 300 in 15 minutes parody beforehand. I went into the movie theatre (Reading, Courtenay Place if memory serves correctly) and laughed my way through it, based on the jokes in the parody. I’m not sure this movie was meant to be viewed as a comedy but there you have it.

It’s beautifully shot, Snyder has a lovely lush eye of contrast and saturated colour. Excellent imagery and comic frame recreations. But it can’t get away from the essential silliness of the whole thing. It’d be better I think, if it accepted its own silliness. Something more like Watchmen where there’s internal critique of what’s going on, or maybe just a little less heavy handed narration. But alas.

The slow motion is overused. It’s everywhere. The loving attention to the bodies of the Spartans, their shiny abs and their pretty cheekbones undercuts the scornful use of ‘boy lovers’ as an insult to the Athenians. The Persians pleasure house has lesbians, to show how evil and decadent they are, I guess.

The Persian volley of arrows blotting out the sun is probably my favourite sequence. The coolness of those effects gets to me. I like a good arrow volley thanks to Lord of the Rings.

The problematic parts of this movie outweigh the things I appreciate. There’s misogyny, obviously, homophobia, racism and ableism. The Persians are described as black as night and soulless so… there’s that. There’s the whole ‘if you’re not able bodied then you cannot live in Sparta let alone fight’. The rejection of the man with the twisted, deformed body. And sure, if that’s how the Spartans really were, then okay. But this isn’t a movie about realism. Every single frame of the movie is fantasy, so why do we have to see these very modern issues displayed like they’re normal? Oh wait, there’s some body shaming stuff with fatness happening too. Uh, I just… we can have fantasy movies which don’t use the easy shorthand of modern prejudices. I’m sure we can…It just doesn’t seem to have happened yet. The Huntsman: Winter’s War is pretty close. But that was made 10 years later than this.

Does it make me love the people? … no. I feel a fair bit of sympathy for the deformed dude who just really wants to earn his shield, and there’s lots of pretty people, but I love none of them. This isn’t a movie about people, even. It’s a movie of a stylised fictionalised comic of a legendary event. It’s about the ideas, but over all it’s about the coolness. And in this case, the coolness doesn’t work for me.

I find myself comparing this to Watchmen and Sucker Punch. Movies that I feel Snyder did better at. You can feel the same griminess, the same colour palette soaking all three of these movies, but both Sucker Punch and Watchment feel like better films to me, because they have characters, humans at their hearts. This is too far down the style black hole and ends up feeling like shiny garbage. And not even fun shiny garbage, like, say 2012 or Jupiter Ascending. Just… sort of dull.

Xerxes is beautiful and impressive though. I like Xerxes. Having said that, it’s a whole queer-phobic thing with him,isn’t it? Because he’s the villain and he’s wearing make up and decorations. And it’s shown to the evil sort of make up, not the dashing eyeliner that the Spartans wear.

Bechdel test: Are you kidding? Only two women speak in the whole movie. One is Gorgo, she talks only to men, and the other is the Oracle, who is unnamed, and only whispers, has to be translated by a man for the other men. This isn’t a movie where women are anything but sex objects. The queen is some way to being cool and bad ass but ultimately she’s raped as a plot point so..

Best line:

THIS. IS. SPAAAAARTAAAAAA!!!

State of Mind: Ehhhhh. I don’t think I’ll be watching this again. I am honestly bored by it.

Watched movie count