Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Powdered Wigs vs. Sofia Coppola

When I’m done watching a movie, I’ll either “get it” or not. I’ll either understand the infinite complexities of it’s craftsmanship (maybe after a couple days to think about it) or I’ll just hate it. Generally, I don’t hate bad movies. By bad movie I mean a movie who’s original intention was not all that honorable to begin with (lots of explosions and violence, shaky plots, terrible actors and/or directors). Some might call them Popcorn films, or blockbusters etc. etc. If I have a seething hatred for a movie it is almost always a good movie, and by good movie I mean a movie whose original intentions were quite honorable (lots of weepiness, plenty of pandering, critically acclaimed directors and/or actors and/or writers and/or cinematographers and/or ad nauseum.) The general consensus when it comes to good movies is that you are supposed to like them, they are made by geniuses and a genius never fails. What would make me hate such a good movie so much that 9 times out of 10 I can’t get to the halfway point of the film? The answer: Powdered Wigs.

There’s something about period pieces that have always irked the ever lovin’ shit out of me. The idea that someone would pay money to see John Malkovich affect a funny accent and prance around in obnoxious clothing and fanciful wigs is just so foreign to me. I’m not saying that it’s John Malkovich’s fault (that’s something I’m going to reserve for a completely separate article) or even the fault of the directors or writers, or heck the powdered wigs. My problem is that when I see Helena Bonham Carter on screen wearing a massive dress adorned with pearls and jewels and gold and whatever the hell else they adorned dresses with back then, I just have no way to relate to it.

So when I go see a movie that is painted with all the shitty colors of a movie that I’m going to hate, and I don’t hate it after I see it, I have to analyze why I thought I wouldn’t like it in the first place. Marie Antoinette features all the warning signs of a period drama: Fancy Wigs, Pretentious Accents, Overly Decorated Homes, Powdered Skin, Lots of Clothes and Dresses, Aristocracy on the downfall, Pompous Characters, and Romance of the trashy novel variety (i.e. a queen in love with a man below her rank or class.)

I don’t wear Fancy Wigs and my home, though overly decorated features no gold trim or massive oil paintings. I do not powder my face or wear make-up. I have plenty of clothes by mostly just jeans and t-shirts. I’m not rich and the only concept I have of being rich is from watching that Richie Rich movie with Macaulay Culkin. Also, I’m a middle class white kid from the suburbs of Chicago, pretty much any girl I would want is in my class (Note: I already do have a pretty awesome girl.)

So Marie Antoinette had a lot going against it but I walked away thoroughly enjoying, nay, loving the movie. Why? I could identify with it. As soon as Kirsten Dunst stepped onto to screen I had that connection down pat (I think she’s a really good actress that hasn’t been given enough opportunities to demonstrate that fact), then she started talking and it wasn’t in a mildly European sounding accent (In movies not set in English speaking countries, people almost always speak English, and by giving their characters an accent from whatever region they are supposed to be representing, they must be from that region, right?).

Kirsten Dunst, throughout the movie, was this cute little girl whom I could relate to because she speaks like my friends and I speak. It was the subtle affectations of Kirsten Dunst’s every-girl voice that hooked me in. It wasn’t anything that I even actively realized was occurring until the movie was almost over. She didn’t over-pronounce or artistocratically drawl once during the entire film, she was just Kirsten Dunst.

Secondly, the music, oh my god the music. I heard a lot of people got their panties in a bunch that Sofia Coppola didn’t use period music in this film. This is probably a shitty comparison but A Knight’s Tale used classic rock during some of it’s battle sequences and I thought that was genius. I’ve heard the thunderous timpanis and gleefully exuberant horns before and even when they’re used well it’s generally still music created for the purpose of eliciting some reaction from the viewer. The theme from Jaws is one of those, it was done perfectly, but it was still something that no one had ever heard until they saw the movie.

I’ve always been a big fan of movie soundtracks, particularly soundtracks that feature music that I’m familiar with (the keyword being “familiar”). Wes Anderson has done this really well, and Quentin Tarantino should probably be given some sort of crown illustrating the fact that he’s really good at putting together a soundtrack. Anyways, when I’m watching a movie and a song that I’m familiar with or better yet, a song that I like, starts shooting through the speakers I am immediately familiar with what is happening on screen.

Music has that power, it sets the mood of the film, sometimes in a greater sense than the photography, costumes or writing can. Because, like I mentioned above, the cinematography, the costumes and writing were all created for the sole purpose of being in the movie you are currently watching. How does one connect with a movie other than directly relating some part of it to another part of their lives? I’m willing to bet that if you LOVE movies you probably LOVE music to. So when New Order starts playing during a sequence in Marie Antoinette, I know what is happening. It takes me from sitting in front of my computer listening to Substance via MP3 to running through a costume ball alongside Marie Antoinette and then Prince Louis. If I can emotionally connect to a movie then it doesn’t matter what else happens, I’m absorbed in it.

So maybe saying that I hate Dangerous Liaisons or Girl With a Pearl Earring is a little obnoxious, I guess I just have to admit something about myself that not many people are willing to admit: I just don’t understand them. So my hatred is misplaced, I understand that. I guess I don’t hate them, but I still don’t like them. I don’t like them in the same way that I don’t like calculus or long division. I’ll choose Marie Antoinette and arithmetic any day.

I don’t think the point of Marie Antoinette was to make it more accessible, just more identifiable. If the story were meant to be more accessible, it would have been directed by some Music Video Throwback and featured a much more contemporary (read: much more AWFUL) soundtrack. I think Sofia Coppola was very careful in not selecting more current music (though she does whip out the Strokes and there is a cameo by Phoenix) or going overboard with the very “now” dialogue. She does it in a way that I imagine she’s been thinking about doing it since she was young Marie Antoinette’s age. Its very playful, almost like the actors are her dolls and the movie her dollhouse. When a little girl pretends to be a princess, she doesn’t speak in the voice of a cultured dauphine, she speaks like a little a girl.

"It's a bad day to be a zombie!"

I'm writing this fresh after seeing a trailer for Day of the Dead, scheduled for release in April 2007. To be honest, I was expecting a bad movie based on the casting choices, which were known beforehand. All the important parts are filled by young, pretty, "Dawson's Creek" types (and if Nick Cannon doesn't sound like a porn star's name, I'll eat a bucket of scorpions). Most - all - successful zombie movies have starred relatively ordinary-looking people, because that's who audiences relate to. And if you don't want your audience to relate to your characters, then go ahead and hire plastic twentysomethings for all the main roles - but you won't have a zombie movie, you'll have an episode of "Buffy."

Then I watched the trailer. I can now state with confidence that Day 2007 won't be bad at all.

It will be pure shit.

What we're looking at appears to be a prequel to Dawn 2004, judging by the zombies (they look and sound and move exactly like Zack Snyder's undead) and the premise (evil corporation/government/military creates virus which infects entire town). This, in itself, doesn't bother me (although, shouldn't the title be Night instead of Day then?). In fact, I think it'd be an interesting concept - if done well. It doesn't look like we're getting that next April.

First of all, if the quality of the trailer is any indication, then this film is being produced by people who have clearly have no business advertising any kind of fiction. The trailer editors apparently come from the "give away every possible twist" school of film advertising (and the twists weren't all that brilliant to begin with). We find out one of our "Dawson's Creek" survivors is infected, but no one knows whom. Then, we find out which one, as he furtively stares at the bite mark on his arm. Congratulations, trailer guys - you've successfully deflated an already cliched suspense-building technique. We find out that the disease was produced by your standard evil scientific research, like that was going to be some kind of revelation. The basic message of the trailer seems to be, "this movie is so predictable that you'll know what's going to happen fifteen minutes in, so I'm going to save you that fifteen minutes right now."

If that didn't insult my intelligence enough, there's the coitus factor. Toward the beginning of the trailer, before the Bad Stuff starts happening, there's a girl saying, "I want us to be special," or some such typical prelude-to-fucking bullshit. This shifts to a quarter-second of her and her boyfriend doin' the nasty. It's subtle as a hammer, as if the producers themselves were nudging us in the ribs with their elbows and saying, "Hey guuuuuys...BOOBIES!!!" If random gratuitous sex is one of the selling points of your film, you need to go back to zombie school.

At least Ving Rhames is in the film, playing Badass Black Sergeant. I liked him in Dawn 2004 as Badass Black Cop. But even he seems to be bored with his lines.

This isn't "remake bitterness." The original Dawn of the Dead was a zombie masterpiece, but I still enjoyed its 2004 remake (which, incidentally, had a much better trailer--none of this giving-away-everything and what-have-you). The original Day of the Dead is one of my favorite zombie movies of all time, but it doesn't color my opinion of this film. The fact that I could wipe my ass with celluloid and produce a better zombie film, however - that's definitely a factor.