Whiplash

The fairly simple premise of this movie is that a young man wants to become the best drummer in the world, and he is paired up with a music teacher who wants to produce the best drummer in the world.  The match is not quite as made in heaven as you might expect, and the movie does a good job of drawing out the mental flaws in both characters.

I enjoyed the way the characters were written and fleshed out, but they often made some truly bizarre decisions that leave you scratching your head because of the lack of logic.  These are not exactly logical characters, so it still works, but there is an underlying suspicion that they are behaving illogically because the writers want to subvert tropes and make it surprising.  Their behaviour toes the line of being unrealistically random, but they manage to keep it within the realms of believability.  A few spots could have used more polish to make it easier to swallow, though.

And I’m not really sure what’s going on with the ending.  Was it intentionally ambiguous or just poorly indicated?  It feels like they weren’t sure how to end it, so they just ended it, which is only a good way to end if it no one tries to think about it, which is perhaps not the best strategy for a thought-provoking movie.

I don’t follow the Oscars so I had no idea this movie was so popular, but it makes sense that it was nominated for a bunch of awards since it’s the same movie as Black Swan, but without the lesbian sex.

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Sling Blade

I went through IMDB looking for movies rated above 7 which we had not seen before.  There were surprisingly few.

We tend to avoid watching romances, so I ended up with a pile of those. Two bonus reviews!: We watched 500 Days of Summer, which felt incredibly generic to me, but it was somewhat redeemed by the creative structuring – I guess the animated transitions really appealed to me.  Husband hated it.  Then we watched Before Midnight which is apparently the third movie in a trilogy that we have not seen the other two movies in!  We got 45 minutes into that before I burst out with “What the fuck is the point of this movie?!?” and read the synopsis on Wikipedia, only to discover there is no point.  I turned it off.  I haven’t seen the first one so I guess it’s probably better if you’re already invested in the characters and just want to spend more time with them, but it was a colossal waste of 45 minutes as far as I’m concerned.  I want movies to have a god damn plot.

Going through the list went something like this:  “ugh, romance… ugh, romance… ugh, romance… ooh not a romance! … ugh, romance…” so when we unburied Sling Blade I recalled that it was one of the non-romance findings, but I didn’t know much else about it.  I assumed that since it had “blade” in the title that it was some kind of action movie.  It turns out it’s actually a drama, which really makes a lot of sense because if it had been an action movie we would have seen it already.  I don’t know what I was thinking.

I really enjoyed Sling Blade.  It had a plot, which was a good start (seriously, what the fuck why is that movie so highly rated), although I was pretty worried when it opened with 15 minutes of some random guy in a mental hospital rambling about almost having sex with a transvestite.  The movie is the story of Karl, who is a mentally challenged man who has spent the majority of his life in a hospital after killing someone with a “Sling Blade” at the age of 12. He is now “cured” of murderous tendencies, but is completely and obviously not prepared to be turned loose on his own.  They pat him on the head and drive off, leaving him on the curb of the town he was a child in.

The plot itself didn’t really hold any surprises.  The foreshadowing is less of a shadow and more of a neon sign, and I turned to my husband at one point and said “Well, now we know how it ends.”  That’s exactly how it ended. (Although when the guy at the shop tells Karl that once the shop is locked you can’t get out and he’ll get him a key, my husband did predict it would end with him burning to death in a sombre lesson about fire safety regulations.  Now you know that it does not, in fact, end that way.  Sorry for the spoilers.)  Despite knowing what’s going to happen, it’s still gripping somehow, probably because the acting is fantastic.  The characters are all very real (sometimes regrettably so) and they all behave exactly like you expect – which is what makes it both predictable and believable.  That’s good writing and acting.  I recommend checking it out.

The Intouchables

We felt like watching a movie last night, and in particular I felt like watching a good movie.  I went to my favourite recommendation site (Movielens… it’s my favourite mostly because I already have like 800 movies rated on it so it’s usually got some reasonable recommendations for us.  I can’t be bothered to rate all those movies on another site, god.) but all the movies at the top of the list seemed to be either war or romance (or both!).  I was not in the mood for either of those.  So I wandered over to IMDB and looked at the list of the top 250 rated movies.  Surprise… we’ve already seen most of them, too.  But there were a few titles I didn’t recognize, so I checked them out and it turned out I didn’t recognize them because they weren’t in English.  We’ve only recently really expanded into foreign films so there are some untapped resources waiting there.  (We’ve already seen the sci-fi ones, of course…).  One of the first ones on the list was The Intouchables, a french film about a wealthy quadriplegic man who hires an ex-con as his caregiver, after he comes in for the job interview merely to get his welfare papers signed to prove he “tried” to get a job.

There’s nothing much unique about the story – it’s pretty much exactly what you expect.  Two very different worlds collide and everyone learns valuable life lessons in the end.  It would be almost insultingly cliche, if it weren’t actually based on a true story.  Well… sort of.  After the movie is over, there is a shot of the real people the movie is based on, and you discover that Philippe is portrayed accurately, but “Driss” is named “Abdel” and he is Arabic, not African.  My eyebrow raised at that change… if you’re portraying a true story about an ex-con arab, why would you feel the need to change it to an ex-con black guy?  Especially since the movie seems to tap into some of the stereotypes of black people in poverty stricken areas and it might have been nice to explore a different nationality attempting to deal with things.  Adding to that, it really felt like the story of Driss’s family was truncated and unfinished, possibly because they had less source material to work with?  It just seemed like the decision to make changes resulted in a lot of awkwardness.  I had to go do some research and sources didn’t exactly pour out of the internet, but it seems as though their explanation is that they simply had an actor in mind already and he happened to be black.  It doesn’t really change the story, and the actor they got is amazing, but it still kind of sets off my OCD.  It’s not accurate dammit!  Of course, it was already sort of bothering me because “intouchable” should not be a word, let alone a title.  >:(

Inaccuracies aside, the movie itself was really, really good.  Any threats of being boring or cliche were buried by amazing writing and excellent pacing.  It seems as though a lot of the situations that are portrayed are based on things that actually happened (in the one interview I found, they only mention two scenes which were fabricated, and a few things that happened but played out slightly differently in reality.  I also highly suspect the scene where Driss is compared to Barack Obama did not happen to Abdel…) and the scenes and lines roll together in an incredibly natural fashion (with the exception of a few that felt very “plunked”.  Like they wanted to include them but didn’t know where, so they just got stuffed in wherever).  The writing is actually quite funny, which is something you may not expect in this sort of movie, but it also plays into the points the movie seems to be trying to make.  At no point did it seem to be inappropriately funny, nor did it ever get so serious that it was oppressive, even when dealing with serious subject matter.  I felt it was really well balanced.

My husband’s review was: “That was really good, but they definitely overused the dramatic piano music.”
So there’s that, I guess.

While looking up the background of the movie, I also discovered it won, like, every award, and was like the second most popular movie of all time in France.  I originally figured I wanted to use this blog to bring attention to things people might miss otherwise (and to bitch about popular things that suck, of course) so I guess this movie doesn’t really fit that criteria, but I do hope the need for subtitles doesn’t prevent people from checking this one out.  Subtitles are actually pretty great because you don’t have to worry about speaker volume imbalance and not being able to hear words over the background music!  Although it does make it infinitely more annoying when the cat walks in front of the TV…