Happy Monday everyone and welcome to another edition of the LiC Watercooler, sort of an open thread to discuss what you’ve been watching lately. As always, I’ll kick things off.

Courtesy of Film Independent, the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to catch up with a few of the Spirit Award nominees that I haven’t seen.

The Secret of the Grain is a nominee for best foreign film and it arrives with many excellent reviews. It tells the story of Slimane, an aging Tunisian immigrant who dreams of quitting his backbreaking shipyard job to open his own couscous restaurant on a boat in the harbor. Unfortunately, mistakes in Slimane’s past haunt him and threaten to ruin all his plans.

I was really loving this one through most of its running time up until the final 15 or 20 minutes. Is it fair to turn on a film just because it didn’t end the way you wanted it to? Fair or not, I hated the ending and it ruined the film for me. I’ve given it some thought afterwards and I’ve warmed up to it a little bit – the ending is justified, clearly signaled and it makes sense, but I haven’t gotten over the initial disappointment.

Another best foreign film nominee surrounded by glowing critical praise is Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light and it was even more disappointing. Though the story of a spiritual crisis in a family of Mennonites stemming from a husband’s infidelity is beautifully told with terrific cinematography and sound design, I found it impossible to identify with or relate to the characters. Because the Mennonites discourage divorce, the wife’s lot was an unfortunate one, but to an outsider unencumbered by religious strictures, her situation seems self-imposed and is therefore not very sympathetic. I hate to say something so beautiful and finely crafted is boring but it left me completely cold.While the technique and the glacial pace were mesmerizing, I was left wondering what the point of it all was.

Finally is Sangre de mi Sangre, a nominee for best first film and screenplay. Christopher Zalla’s story of an illegal Mexican immigrant making his way to New York to find his estranged father only to have his identity stolen by a traveling companion starts out as a promising thriller with shades of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s good stuff for about 90 minutes but then it goes on for far too long and it becomes irritating. Worse, the bleak ending is pointless and unsatisfying. Who knows? Maybe I was just cranky from the earlier disappointments.

That’s the story from Los Angeles. What’s happening with you?

59 Responses to “The Watercooler: 1/19/09”

  1. “I’ve heard a number of complaints about him as a character. One reviewer even went so far as to call the scene where he tries to hold EVE’s hand date rape.”

    That’s…….effing hilarious, lmao.

  2. Sartre, here’s what I think the critics are seeing, that for whatever perfectly valid reason, you are not.

    WALL-E is at its heart a celebration of humanity’s ingenuity, creativity, and capacity to overcome even our worst selfish, slothful impulses and grow into something better, for the sake of something bigger than our own bloated selves. It’s about the power of one, the power of two, the power of many. WALL-E himself is as much a human invention as the mess he was created to clean up; his character traits (resourcefulness, curiosity, loneliness, dilligence, loyalty, friendship, love, rashness, courage, the ability to learn) are a direct reflection of our own. Eve, too, is a product of us, directly or indirectly. It’s a story, not new, but told in new ways, that reminds us through hyperbole and metaphor of how much we, today, now, need to remember to cherish life in all its forms and have the courage to trust and reclaim our own creative spirit.

    WALL-E tells this story in a dazzlingly beautiful technical feat of animation that on a somewhat meta level itself makes the same thematic case: Look what beauty we can create, how warm and imaginative this technology can be, bringing us closer together and to our best selves. We mortals cannot be underestimated, and neither can the possibilities of animation. The art direction, animated cinematography, editing, sound, all the technicals are top shelf.

    And as a bonus for film critics, WALL-E simultaneously draws from eight decades of cinematic history–most notably, from the dawn of cinema–to quietly honor film’s most powerful and poignant role in our lives, that of sustaining us in the dark times and reminding us, through whatever improbable means (Hello, Dolly, of all films, is the one highlighted), of what’s really important. It’s a film rich in symbolism and layers of meaning that is steeped in film history and makes a strong argument for film’s future.

    The screenplay gives equal weight to humanity’s dual talents for destruction and construction, using the current gathering environmental crisis as a trope that grounds the otherwise sci-fi fantasy in relevance to our immediate future. The real villains in the picture aren’t mutinous AI, but the demons within ourselves that compel us to consume more and more and faster and easier and forget what it is that makes us human, that creative spark and need to forge a path ever forward.

    Meanwhile, it has a timeless love story between a bumbling but charming and well-intentioned Chaplin-esque male and a fierce and feminist female who connects to her softer core self, each of whom changes and grows better for knowing the other during the course of the film. That’s what real romance does, makes us better people individually and as a couple for discovering that soul-sustaining partnership. It is a love that was never programmed to be, and yet, must be.

    It’s a film that like the best of sci-fi asks, “What if?” and then takes us on a bleak path that does not have to be. It’s a film that channels the deep undercurrent of hope, even amidst the darkest of crises–the death of our planet and the devolution of our species–and has a resounding echo of the rallying cry of a very frightening 2008: “Yes we can!”

    To top it off, and almost as asides to its other many treasures, WALL-E also contains significant amounts of humor that don’t rely on fart jokes and pop culture allusions, a misshapen band of merry Island-of-Lost-Toys-esque robots who discover they still have value, a prolonged and joyfully magical cinematic sequence of robots in love spiraling through space, and an endearing cockroach who just won’t die.

    It’s one heck of a great film, in my opinion.

  3. Amen, sister. Give the lady a prize, because she nailed it. Beautifully written and expressed.

    This alone could be the LIC reader submission for Wall-E.

  4. Jennybee owns this thread. Your comment made me kind of misty eyed, but these days I get misty eyed during commercials for Oprah so take that for what it’s worth.

  5. I second Joel’s call – jennybee’s comment has to be the one featured in the 2008 Readers Poll for WALL-E. What an absolutely beautiful piece of impassioned and lucid writing. Completely took my breath away. Ok, I get it now. And next time I see the film I’ll try to bring the same intelligence and open heart to its appraisal as you did. That comment is one for the ages.

  6. Jenny Bee: That piece was utterly phenomenal, fantastic, superlative, deeply-moving, and beautifully written in lyrical prose.

    You have entered the gates of heaven with that!

    Go WALL-E!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Jenny Bee: I am very much interested in the publishing rights to that review!

  8. Aw, thanks, guys. As someone who had two very different reactions to it the two times I saw it, I just wanted to convey all the richness and beauty I found in it the second time when I slowed down to appreciate it more. There’s really quite a bit going on in it, all at once. The problems I had with pacing and what I initially thought to be the second half’s less lyrical screenplay simply dissipated on viewing #2. Considering how hard it is to get anything made well in Hollywood, I now consider it an almost perfectly crafted film.

    Sartre, I do hope you find more in it next time round, but if you don’t that’s OK, too. Not every film speaks to every person. That’s one reason there are so many (also that aforementioned creative spirit may play a part).

    Sam, lol, I don’t know that I have any publishing rights to bestow, but you’re of course welcome to use it. : )

    As far as Pixar films go, I have enjoyed them all, though I never saw Monsters, Inc. Finding Nemo is fantastic. Haven’t seen the Toy Stories or A Bug’s Life since they were in the theater, but I have fond memories of being wowed by them. Cars is probably my least favorite, though even it was more engaging than I had expected (I put off seeing it for a long time, convinced I’d be bored stiff). I rate WALL-E as the “best” film they’ve done and The Incredibles as their most entertaining (also the first film I saw with my husband). Because I am also a hobbyist cook with an unrequited love for Paris, Ratatouille ranks right behind WALL-E and is still my sentimental favorite.

  9. Jennie Bee, thanks very much. It will publish at Wonders in the Dark with linkage back to LIC within the next 15 minutes.

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