Film #131: Bridesmaids (2011)

brDirector: Paul Feig
Language: English with a bit of Thai and Spanish
Length: 125 minutes
Watched on: 29 Nov 2014

This film had been on my backburner for a while. It came out a few years ago, and was generally well received despite being billed as the female version of The Hangover. Fortunately, as its good ratings showed, it is much more than that. This may, it should perhaps be pointed out, be because it has a twist halfway through, and doesn’t quite go where the trailers implied it would in the third act.

At the heart of the drama, the central conflict is between the main character, appointed as the maid of honour to her best friend, and the best friend’s new friend, who is rich and has connections, and is actually capable of pulling off a decent wedding. They start battling early on, to comedic effect.

True to its crass comedy roots, toilet humour is used to full force, at least in the first act. I still don’t understand the appeal of toilet humour, as an adult at least, but clearly the most egregious scene was there as a kind of hook to get people to keep watching. After that, the movie pretty much matures, and rather suddenly too.

It explores the emotional state of its protagonist well, I thought. She starts out just a bit down on her luck, his rock bottom halfway through the movie, and is outright depressed for most of the movie. I thought it was realistically portrayed, if a little ridiculous in the extent of the bad luck that she gas for the sake of comedy. The movie managed to avoid making comedy out of the depression itself, though, which I think deserves merit.

As a whole, I would say that I liked the movie. The other main thing I remember about it is being surprised and slightly confused by the appearance of the Irish guy from The IT Crowd as the love interest. Perhaps aside from the toilet humour, my main complaint about the movie was that it sometimes relied too much on fat jokes for a cheap laugh. However, none of the characters were in any way one dimensional, even the ones that originally looked like they would be. So a bit ambivalent about some of the humour, but I think overall I’d recommend it.

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Film #130: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

gbhDirector: Wes Anderson
Language: English and some French and German
Length: 100 minutes
Watched on: 26 Nov 2014

This film was my first foray into the world of renting DVDs in Japan. I’d heard about it favorably earlier last year, so I thought it was a reasonable choice.

I’m already a bit ambivalent about Wes Anderson’s work. His metaphors are blunt, and the cinematography is obsessively exacting, if visually arresting. This film pretty much confirmed those biases: after the excessive amount of perfectly composed individual frames, I felt like I’d watched some art museum exhibit, not a movie. It actually felt disorienting  afterwards.

As for the story, it was a fun caper across interbellum Europe – or actually probably during the war, but a mishmash of the two wars. It was also set in a fictional country that was an ersatz Prussia or some other Eastern European fiefdom.

But aside from that it was enjoyable to watch, I can’t now remember any other major details of the story. Most of it was inconsequential details like a MacGuffin, which I think is what drives the story. An honorable technique with a long history in filmmaking, no doubt, but not one that makes for a memorable story.

That’s basically it. Reasonably funny, but annoying cinematography and ultimately unmemorable. If you don’t hate Anderson, might be worth a watch.

Film #129: Interstellar (2014)

IMG_3338
Director: Christopher Nolan
Language: English
Length: 169 minutes
Watched on: 22 Nov 2014

In a rare instance of actually being on the ball, I went to see Interstellar during the opening weekend, after work one day. I’d heard a lot of good things about it before going in, so I was interested to see how it’d compare.

The story concerns a future version of Earth, in which there’s been some kind of plight or drought, perhaps a disease of crops. Most crops have died out except corn. Society becomes focused on growing food at the expense of anything else, and social controls are put in place. Then the main character, a former astronaut relegated to being a farmer, discovers the former NASA gone into hiding, and is hired on the spot for the next mission, to go into a mysterious wormhole that’s opened up, to try and find a new homeworld for humanity.

The film is hot on the heels of Gravity, released just a year before. The graphics are by far the most stunning thing about it, and it’s said that many of the unexpected visual effects, particularly the wormhole’s 3D effect and the “lensing” effect on the black hole later on, were discovered organically by the filmmakers. It also has a strong thematic and visual link to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I think is effectively acknowledged by the film on a couple of occasions.

Aside from the space stuff, the film’s focus is family, to a dogged degree. The main character can’t go five minutes without mentioning how much he misses his daughter back on Earth, and every conversation ultimately links back to her, or to his quest to get back to Earth. He is repeatedly told not to keep going on about it, so is very happy to admonish Anne Hathaway’s character for admitting she had an ulterior motive for going through the wormhole.

The ending is left ambiguous, and is very much in the style of 2001. Without wishing to go into too much detail, a lot of it simply didn’t make physical sense, and seemed a bit of a stretch, to say the least. It managed to tie up a plot point from the beginning, but the way it did so just opened up too many other questions.

I liked the film a lot, but it’s important to note that, while undoubtedly the most grandiose in scale, Interstellar is thematically a lot simpler than past works by Nolan. It’s the difference between a skilful reveal, such as was used in The Prestige, and trying to come across as profound here but having ultimately a messy ending. Messy ending aside, though, I’d recommend seeing this film, even if just for the visuals – and unlike Gravity, there’s definitely more to it than that.

Book #78: The Perfect Storm (1997)

IMG_3337-0Author: Sebastian Junger
Language: English
Length: 565 minutes (9 hours 25 minutes)
Finished listening on: 19 Nov 2014

I wasn’t sure what to think of this book after I’d finished. It was a bit of an oddball. It was about a massively powerful storm in the Atlantic during the 80s or early 90s, a storm that happened in real life and caused many fatalities.

For whatever reason, what sets it apart is that it sets out to literally be a true account of the storm, called perfect because it’s a rare combination of several meteorological phenomena that combine to make something exponentially larger. It focuses on one disappeared ship, the Andrea Gale. As it is trying to be a true account, it takes on a documentary or journalistic tone, and tries not to fictionalize too much.

One reason I can find for this is that the author is actually a journalist, and not a fiction author. The uncharitable side of me wants to say that he did this because he has no imagination, or that he is obsessive in the level of detail he put into the research. Perhaps a more pragmatic view would be that the level of complexity in the real life story would be difficult to capture in a fictionalized account.

Nevertheless, whatever the reason, sometimes I wished the book would get on with the story, rather than going into yet another dry chapter about the mechanics of sea fishing or the intricacies of compass use. These were mildly interesting sometimes, but mostly couldn’t hold my attention.

On a more minor note, the book starts off with a key, telling readers that bold text would indicate direct quotes, or italic text would indicate what the characters probably said… but this was entirely lost on me, the audiobook listener. The narrator didn’t even bother to adopt significantly different tones or get someone else to read the direct quotes. Part of me doesn’t really care, as it seems like an unnecessary detail, but the other part can’t help but feel I’m missing out.

All that said, the actual story was very interesting, when it got to it. I did actually enjoy some of the science-focused chapters as well, and I liked the epilogue read by the author, discussing how the book came to be, and how it was appreciated within fishing communities in the United States. Evidently by writing in the journalistic style, he’s managed to capture some essence that a fictional tale would not have, perhaps because he went into great detail about the daily grind of the fishermen.

Book #77: Grave Sight (2005)

IMG_2561.JPGAuthor: Charlaine Harris
Language: English
Length: 474 minutes (7 hours 54 minutes)
Finished listening on: 28 October 2014

I think I’m going to start recommending books based on some kind of memorability index. This one would score pretty lowly. Granted, the main reason I’d have cause to do such a thing is that I’ve been neglecting this blog somewhat.

Grave Sight wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it’d be from the blurb, let’s put it that way. I’d thought it’d be a whiny young adult novel about a teenager trying to find her place in the world, akin to Twilight, but instead what I got was a novel about a young woman in her twenties trying to make her way – this, at least, is more relatable to me.

The premise of the novel is that she has supernatural powers, the ability to sense dead bodies and relive their dying moments. Understandably, she’s a pretty fragile character after all that, so as she goes around America selling her services, she’s accompanied for emotional support by her stepbrother, with whom she has some barely contained sexual tension, however much of the book she spends denying it.

The small-town setting off the book definitely had a whiff of American Gods, dare I say it. The author did manage to create an appropriate atmosphere for the setting. But mostly, the book went in one ear, and out the other. I didn’t feel much sympathy for the girl, and lost interest after a while. I also couldn’t keep track of most of the side characters. But it was fine enough to keep going and accompany me during some of my longer bike rides. Just unremarkable.