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New Orleans not being much of a “cinephile-friendly” city (though it is somewhat better than the smaller city in Alabama where I grew up), there is only one theatre playing Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palm D’or winning NC-17 coming-of-age romance Blue is the Warmest Colour.  The Theatres at Canal Place were formerly owned by Landmark, and as teenager I would make the trek from Mobile, Alabama to the Crescent City to get a chance to see the “indie” movies I couldn’t in my hometown (though The Royal Tenenbaums and Amelie were hardly obscure, even on their release).  Still, it was what we had so I took it.  I recently moved to New Orleans, and having arrived excitedly looked at the schedule for that Landmark, only to find it no longer exists.  It was bought out by another company, presumably because exclusively arthouse fare doesn’t sell a lot of tickets in a city such as this, and hence the new name.  It does, thankfully, still cater to the interests of the discerning middle classes by playing smaller films, though they’re given a screen or two while the big releases such as Thor: The Dark World and Bad Grandpa take up most of the space.  As Blue is the Warmest Colour was the first film of any supposed merit that they had when nowhere else was showing it, I finally made the trek (well, my girlfriend drove us) to the dreaded French Quarter, past the tacky Harrah’s Casino and into the posh mall that houses a Saks Fifth Avenue and, as of very recently, a Tiffany’s.   Read the rest of this entry »

Thor: The Dark World

November 18, 2013

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I have long approached the Marvel Cinematic Universe project with fascination and a minor degree of excitement about the possibilities of such a venture without being overly impressed with the end products, The Avengers excepted.  Of all the individual character films, I felt the first Thor was the most successful.  It expanded the universe – quite literally – with a deftness and humour that can so often sink a big-budget spectacle when it comes to introducing vast worlds and new mythologies (Green Lantern, anyone?).  Comic book superheroes are arguably most accessible when they’re weighted in the real world, so for instance Spider-man is easily relatable because he’s just a kid in New York City with some amazing powers and the wider audience doesn’t have to stretch too much to go along with it.  Of course we live in a different world than we did 15 years ago, where the nerdy intergalactic aspects of these types of things were shunned by the mainstream as being “ridiculous” and “nerdy” since nowadays all of the old comic book geek stigma is gone.  Still, introducing the 9 realms to a wider audience wasn’t an easy task, but by contrasting the busy, Roger Dean-esque world of Asgard with the bright, clean lines of the New Mexico desert, and by extension the operatic family drama of Odin and his ilk with the fish-out-of-water silliness of a demi-god wandering through small town America with a bunch of scientists, the pill was easy to swallow.  Thor: The Dark World operates on the basis that the heavily lifting has already been done (many people loathe the origin stories and wait for the characters to properly act already established in the sequels), but it turns out the character introduction wasn’t the only reason the fantastical/grounded dichotomy worked.  The new Thor spends most of its time not understanding the careful balance of the first entry, and suffers for a long period for it.   Read the rest of this entry »

12 Years a Slave

November 7, 2013

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Perhaps one of the most difficult endeavors a filmmaker – or any artist really – is to tackle a real-life subject of such widespread and impossibly horrible cruelty.  The ways in which it can be approached, as well as the potential offensive nature of any depiction, is hard enough without having to deal with the necessities of storytelling, certainly in such an expensive and entertainment-minded medium as film.  One of the great atrocities of the modern era that Hollywood has tackled a number of times is the Holocaust, a contentious issue amongst filmmakers and critics (most regarding appropriateness and taste), but one that has served well in the sense of privileged American distance (it’s easy awards bait, especially for foreign films when it comes to garnering Oscars).  Slavery has been approached far fewer times, if only because the wounds are still being felt and they’re also so specifically American (we, as a culture, don’t like to look at ourselves too critically after all).  British artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen has now made 12 Years a Slave, which many have called the Schindler’s List of slavery movies”, though that reduction is wildly unfair.  There are crucial differences in the approach to the material that make it a vastly more affecting film.  Still, despite the near-universal praise, there are also a number of critics (the internet makes them not hard to find) who find your standard faults in approach, specifically that it reflects a tourist eyed view of slavery and thus nicely adheres to a privileged white audience view of accepting horrors but also giving the kind of “historical triumph” that makes the medicine go down easier, so to speak.  I’m not unsympathetic, but I don’t feel it falls into that trap, despite the overall narrative of the story.

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