Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Case for the Filmfest 2010 Part 1

What a weekend: dinner in a “thematically appropriate” American diner (Laurenorder really does have a way with words), and three films as part of the International Film Festival to see.

First off, the sold out Agora, was the story of the first recorded female mathematician, Hypatia, in 4th Century Alexandria. At least, that is what I was expecting of this Spanish-funded film that did nothing to dispel the notion that aristocracy in the ancient world spoke received pronunciation English. But, while there was a bit of the lovely Rachel Weiss as that character, I was never convinced the story was all about her. Instead, through the eyes of several of the city’s citizens, linked by their love of Hypatia, the film focused on the upheaval in the Roman Empire as Christianity replaced paganism as the state religion in a not altogether bloodless way.

While Hypatia was off pondering the mysteries of the universe (the “setting” shots, that zoomed in and out of the atmosphere to give some perspective to Alexandria’s place in the universe were amazing, though they did occasionally interrupt the flow of the narrative), people were choosing their religion, taking sides and, in some cases, taking arms to make sure the “right” way was the only way.

Depressingly, the extreme idiocy of the extremists, defending their way of life through the annihilation of any other, is a common enough story even in our own times. Pagan versus Christian versus Jewish battles have an impressive body count, with the words and will of Serapis, Jesus and Yahweh inspiring their followers in the least noble of ways. Sure, at first, the rather lovely “meek shall inherit the earth” message swiftly converts the Alexandrines to the Christian faith, but, as the faith becomes more powerful, the whole misogynistic myopic anti-science stance – designed to shut down any opposition to the faith – comes through, and things get very hairy for our heroine.

I am not altogether sure how accurate the portrayal of Hypatia’s contribution to the philosophical world is (I will leave that up to Off Black to investigate), but there is not a huge stretch of the imagination required to believe the ease with which people can be manipulated into violence, and indeed can find any excuse with which to justify their violent actions. Logic and thought don’t get a huge amount of say when words from books written and interpreted to suit particular agendas are so much easier.

All in all, Agora has beautifully recreated the world of Alexandria (using Malta as a template – makes me want to go there!), but I thought the characters themselves got lost in the bigger picture of the social changes going on. Rachel Weiss is always lovely to watch, as is her bottom which makes a few cameo appearances, and the actor playing her slave is rather successfully “aged” in the course of the film, but the others fade into the scenery – though again, the scenery is still pretty impressive.

Verdict: Incredible in scale, though perhaps a little unfocused on the lens of Hypatia, Agora is a really interesting film that shows how mankind struggling to find its place in the vastness of the universe. Well, honestly, the majority of mankind seems to be satisfied to let others tell them what their place is and then beat up others who don’t share that world view, something that hasn’t really changed since those ancient times. And Rachel Weiss has a great bottom. 290 days out of 365.

Later that night, it was time for an Incredibly Strange Film Festival offering. Inspired by Agora, the walk there gave me the chance to look up at the sky and ponder the mysteries of the universe, but I could only see one star and the moon through the cloud – though the JudgeNot the NotKate insisted there was another half star that eluded my limited vision. That contemplation cleared my mental palate for The Room, reputedly one of the worst films ever made.

Another full session, I was puzzled by the number of people who came in sporting bags of plastic spoons. The film is a cult hit, as illustrated by the 20 to 30 people who, before the film, identified themselves as having seen the film before, and this I took as a promising sign: that this film could be seen more than once and still enjoyed.

And enjoyed the film I did. I don’t think I have laughed so much in a movie theatre since I saw Starship Troopers or the original Clerks film (and also the original Jackass, I will admit). I would like to say that all the laughs were intentional, but it seems more likely that Tommy Wiseau’s homage to himself is actually just excruciatingly bad, as a lot of the humour in the scenes can only work with incredible earnestness and conviction on the part of the actors.

Tommy Wiseau is the star, director, writer and almost everything else on this movie, and his cast includes friends and (possibly) family. A well built European of unspecified origin, the acting ability of his frequently flashed muscular buttocks far outstrips anything his face tries to emote, and his timing is off by about 10 minutes. In comparison, the rest of the cast at least appear to have attended at least one acting class, though I am not convinced that wasn’t Porno 101.

Yup, there are a few, ponderous “love” scenes, filmed through layers of lace and a small water feature. The majority of the film though takes place in the small living room – though I am not convinced that this is actually “the room” either, as I choose to see this as the little shed that dwells on the rooftop of the San Francisco apartment.

You know it is San Francisco because of the numerous “scene setting” shots. You know the basic plot because it is reiterated (though does not necessarily progress) every few minutes. And you know all these “actors” should never be allowed to work again, as I am sure nothing could compare with appearing in this… masterpiece.

The dialogue is… something else. When being seduced, lines like, “What’s with the candles? The music? The sexy dress?” are fairly standard, though of course it kind of helps to have those things actually present when commenting upon them. There are a few choice lines that I would love to repeat here, awful in their construction and delivery, but I won’t because that would rob people of the joy of experiencing them in context.

The characters are a bit more describable: Tommy plays Johnny, a banker up for promotion; there’s his girlfriend Lisa; his best friend Mark; and a very creepy young neighbour called Denny that Johnny seems to have taken under his wing. There is a variety of other colourful characters that migrate in and out of the story with various degrees of impact, back story and relevance, all bound by a terrible script and sketchy motives.

And, in a room full of people who appreciate the absurd masterpiece being shown, the film is absolutely hilarious. Will I go again? If they screen it again, I will be there with spoons in hand.

Verdict: This truly is the Citizen Kane of bad movies. The Room is a masterpiece of the medium in every way conceivable in entirely the wrong way, and it is a huge amount of fun that should be enjoyed. 4.5 plastic spoons out of 5.

For some classic The Room movie quotes, check out the imdb link.

And for a fantastic review from JudgeNot the NotKate, make sure to check out her blog.

1 comment:

Not Kate said...

What candles?
What music?
What dress?

Ahhhh, genius! Bravo!

I've done some research, and apparently the guy who was playing 'Peter' left halfway through filming, so they just gave his lines to another actor for the final scene.... never introduced his character or anything... GENIUS!