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Lara Eckener

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Friday Four #1

Someone remind me that I wanted to make a post about Rise of the Guardians and childhood dreams. I really meant to, but time slipped away from me, as it often does. In fact, some of you might notice that this went up after midnight eastern standard time, which actually makes it a Saturday Four. Anyone who speaks up about this will be kept after class and made to write “I will not question people in their own blogs” a hundred times. And I want that handwriting neat!

I was in a bit of a conundrum over what to make the first Friday Four about. I have spent the last two days trying to pull together stuff to talk about for our 2012 reviews at the Wrong Opinions Podcast. (Well, when I wasn’t trying to figure out how to warp one of the Big Damn Existential Scifi Novel characters into something I could write for a call). I’ve also spent a lot of that time feeling sad that I couldn’t talk about We Need to Talk About Kevin on the podcast this evening because it came out last year. Then, finally as so rarely happens, the two separate sides of my brain connected somehow and I realized I should make the first Friday Four about movies I watched last year and couldn’t talk about on the review podcast. So here, in no particular order, are four movies you should definitely watch if you missed them the first time around.

1. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Before I begin this, I need to warn you that this movie will never let you go. It’s brutal and effective in its attempts to force the main character’s unease on to you. I watched it many months ago and yet I was just last month in the middle of a long car trip when all of a sudden out of nowhere I was struck by the immense sadness of the ending of the movie and couldn’t breathe for a moment.

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(TRAILER)

The story is that of a mother’s (Tilda Swinton) frustrations over her inability to understand and form a relationship with her son (played at different ages by Jasper Newell and Ezra Miller) and her husband’s (John C. Reilly) inability to listen to what she’s really saying when she talks about her fears. The whole thing culminates in a school shooting, but it’s not really the end that sticks with me as much as all of the build up. Ezra Miller and Tilda Swinton turn in outstanding performances. Miller’s performance in particular haunted me for days after I watched it. (And then gave me some wicked whiplash when later that weekend I went and saw him The Perks of Being a Wallflower. He’s one to watch.)The friend who recced the movie to me told me she wished she could forget having watched it, it’s so disturbing. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s a horror film, but a lot of the elements of suspense are there. It grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go.

If you like deft character development, scripts that don’t mince words, and aren’t afraid to get your hands (or your imagination) dirty, then this movie is for you.

2. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

This is one we did discuss on the podcast, as part of our Hitchcock Extravaganza at the beginning of last year, but I will never be tired of trying to force people to watch it.

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The Lodger is a silent film about a murderer who is loosely like Jack the Ripper in the way he carries out his crimes and who he targets. It mainly concerns a man who takes a set of rooms during this turbulent time (Ivor Novello) and the daughter of his landlords (June Tripp) whom he falls in love with. This movie had my undivided attention about five minutes in when it gave me some awesome shots of the room sized newspaper printing presses of the time…and then Ivor Novello happened. I think maybe you need to have been raised on Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff like I was to understand how such an expressive face and entreating eyes can capture my heart so, but I fell fast and hard for our hero.

…or is he? He’s mistaken for the killer and then cleared after a harrowing mob scene, but you can’t be sure. The movie itself has the normal narrative snags that we often find when we watch movies structured for audiences of a different time, but you can see Hitchcock’s developing style in it. Especially in the very last scene where all of the intent of clearing the lodger’s name that was in the script–Novello was a popular actor and they couldn’t sully his name by having him play a murderer–is undermined entirely by Hitchcock lingering on a particular lit up sign.

If you like the brand of suspense found in silent films or learning about where famous directors got their starts, then this movie is for you.

3. Circumstance (2011)

I wanted so badly to see this film that I almost broke my keyboard ordering it on Netflix when it finally showed up there. I knew absolutely nothing about it except what I’d seen in the trailer at the beginning of 2011, but that was enough.

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This movie was so much more than I expected it to be. I thought it might be your average coming of age lesbian tale with enough cultural differences to keep me intrigued. I did not expect to see the harsh realities of living as a young person of suspect in Tehran, how the things that a person does can get back to their families in a hundred painful ways, or the strength of rebellious spirit in a growing class of young people who refuse to live in the world their parents have left for them. I cannot deny that I take a lot of things for granted about my life, and watching things like this kicks me outside of my head, which is a good thing. The girls (Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy) in the movie give engaging performances, and their group of friends made me smile as often as they made me think. There’s also an incredibly creepy plot with one of the girls’ older brother (Reza Sixo Safai) and his obsession with her girlfriend that was way left field from what I was expecting, So good job, movie.

If you are interested in LGBT youth or stories about coming of age in Iran, then this is the movie for you.

4. La planete sauvage (1973)

Billed as Fantastic Planet in the US, La planete sauvage is a feature length animated film written by René Laloux and Roland Topor, and animated at Jiří Trnka Studio. It reminds me a great deal of many things, but I feel like all of those comparisons would be unfair because of the cultural differences between where I’m coming from and where this coming from. Though, that isn’t to say that those things I’m thinking of weren’t influenced by this or other works by the studio.

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(TRAILER)

The main action of the story concerns itself with a human boy named Terr who is being kept as a pet by one of a race of gargantuan blue aliens called Draags. The aliens believe humans too stupid to learn, so Terr passes his many bored hours by listening to his owner’s school lessons. When he finally manages to escape and find more people like himself his knowledge of the alien race helps the other humans (referred to as Oms, a term too close to the French word homme for me to ignore) fight back in a way they hadn’t been able to before.

The ‘camera’ here lingers long and heavy on the surreal landscape of the Draag planet and its many strange and wondrous creatures who seem to enjoy capturing and taunting or torturing smaller animals for fun. It’s this behavior that probably informs the Draags opinions of the Oms as unfeeling beasts, but in the end a shared reason saves the day.

If you like speculative science fiction, existentialism, surrealist art, or listening to people speak French (look, I’m easy for French), then this movie is for you.

And that’s enough of that for one night, as it’s now way past my bedtime. Is there a movie you’ve been dying to tell someone about or that you think I should see? Share in the comments! And have a good weekend.

.022 – He’s here. The Bat…man.

With two short hours until the official east coast release of The Dark Knight Rises, my entire twitter feed is bursting with excitement.  But this isn’t a fresh flurry of twitterpated fans, this has been ramping up for months now as marketing people and DC employees have worked tirelessly to not let us forget that the most important Bat-event of our lives is about to rain down on us like glass from an art museum ceiling.  Everything everywhere has been all Batman all the time.

I’d be remiss in pretending like I haven’t been a part of that deluge.  The Wrong Opinions About Movies podcast crew worked with a whole host of guests over the last two months on a project we’ve affectionately dubbed Batcon.  We watched almost every Batman movie and then unpacked each one in a mini-episode along with some stellar friends.  My personal favorite of the bunch is the Batman Forever episode, which we recorded with comedian Andrew Sanford.  Nothing says the universe loves me quite like Val Kilmer in the cowl.

Since we started this immersion course in a universe I already have a lot of love for, I’ve been doing some thinking about Batman and the movies they make about him.  Watching anything back to back to back will throw the things that you dislike into sharp relief with the things you do, and I’ve been turning over in my head a list of things I’d like to never see in a Batman movie again.  (The Waynes dying in an alley, Barbara as Not A Gordon, ice puns, etc.)  But along with that I’ve also been thinking about the things that I’m pining for.  The comics universe that has been built around Bruce Wayne and his made family is massive.  Why do we make the same movies over and over again?  It seems that no matter who writes the movies we get Bruce’s manpain, several villains picked out of a hat, and an added dash of origin.  According to the Wiki article there are 16 current members of the more or less immediate Bat-family.  (I would argue whether some of them are appropriate, but that’s a whole other post entirely.)

So, with this information, what other movies could we write that would engage the lay-audiences while not boring those of us who spend way too much time thinking about Gotham anyway?  I’ve come up with five I’d like to see.

1. Under the Red Hood
This is an easy starting place, because Warner Brothers already released a nicely done animated version of the story line straight to home video in 2010.  The average film going audience isn’t going to be familiar with Jason Todd (or any Robin that isn’t Dick Grayson), but it wouldn’t be hard to compress his meeting with Bruce–trying to steal the rims from the Batmobile–and his capture and subsequent ‘murder’ at the hands of the Joker.  The fact that Jason comes back to Gotham as a hard hitting, life taking, smarm monster does more to dent Bruce’s self-worth than Poison Ivy, Bane, and Mr. Freeze can together.  And Jason’s lack of redemption in Bruce’s eyes would be an excellent driving force for a sequel.

2. Batman Beyond
Even the curlicue of storytelling that comic books call continuity has to admit that Bruce Wayne can’t be Batman forever.  Eventually he’ll grow old and resign himself to a desk.  Enter Terry McGinnis, the Batman of the future.  I’ll leave you to search for the main plot points in the wikipedia article if you’re curious, but Batman Beyond could have all of the elements that we as a society fear the most these days: corporate conglomerates, chemical weapons, a whole gang devoted to the memory of The Joker.  Batman Beyond as a movie would be the most radical change you could make at this point, since it would leave us with very few remembered characters.  It would be a drastic pull away from the Batman movies we’ve grown comfortable with.

3. Nightwing
Eventually, Dick Grayson grew up, and much more gracefully than Chris O’Donnell ever let on.  At the age of eighteen he was dismissed from his Robin duties and took on the mantle of Nightwing (along with some truly tragic costumes).  This is a movie that could happen in Gotham, but it could also introduce his part time home of Bludhaven, where Dick went to get away from Gotham and be out from under Batman’s teflon wing.  He worked on the police force during the day, so the investment in keeping his alter ego and his true ego separate would have even more at stake than Bruce, whose eccentricities can often be played off as just what money does.  The great thing about a Nightwing movie would be the shift in tone.  Dick is very much not Bruce Wayne, even when they’re together.  Given room to breathe his character is inspiring and responsible while also being a bit silly and game for a laugh.  Even for the short time that Dick wore the Batman mantle himself he let hope and his heart rule out over his head.

4. Oracle
Ladies!  There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether or not a female superhero can carry a film franchise.  I like to think that one could, given the right writer.  (If the universe could arrange for Joss Whedon to write the Black Widow movie, I’d be eternally in its debt.)  And even without the ‘right’ writer, Barbara Gordon is so much more than a cape or a character confined to a wheelchair.  As Oracle Babs is a fighter, a librarian, and the world’s greatest communications/research gal a detective, Suicide Squad, or group of female vigilantes could have.  Our daily lives are increasingly falling prey to the technology we let in, and Barbara’s ability to manipulate that, as well as her physical prowess, could make for a compelling and modern story.  The studio could even include the events of The Killing Joke if it had to, but I’d rather her story be more about strength and intellect and less about depression and fear.

5.  Batwoman  
Ladies on ladies!  This addition is even more personally indulgent than the one about Nightwing.  Kate Kane is my current favorite member of the Bat-family.  She’s relatively new, having been introduced as the current incarnation of Batwoman in 2006, but her story is timely.  She was a student at the United States Military Academy when she was outed as having a relationship with a woman.  When confronted by the higher ups and asked to just deny the claims so she could stay, she leaves her class ring on his desk and quits.  This happens several months before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed for us in the real world.  From there she goes on to fight the ills of the world the best way she knows how.  Batwoman’s stories tend to have a more supernatural element than a lot of the other tales told about the Bat-family, so they would probably appease the paranormal romance crowd.  She’s contrary while holding strong convictions and she refuses to cowtow to Batman, even though she’s working within his city.  She’s honestly, and I have been holding off on saying this for a little over a thousand words now, the hero we need and deserve.  In my eyes, anyway.

Above all, I think the key to introducing new Bat-family characters to the movie going audiences is to not doubt the movie going audiences.  For the most part, we’re not stupid.  We are introduced to new characters and new stories every year and have no problems taking in their hopes and fears and journeys of discovery.  Why should it be any different with properties that might be familiar?  What do you think?  Do you disagree vehemently with the stories I’d like to see?  Would you hate or love these movies?  Which stories would you like to see them tell about Batman and his caped cohorts?  I can, as you might have noticed, talk about Batman until the Bat-cows come home.  So sound off!  But if you post spoilers for the movie, please give us a heads up so we can all avoid them until we’ve seen it.

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