Tag: foreign

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Amélie

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/amelie.mp3]

If one were to look up ‘charming’ in the dictionary, the definition would read something like this:

1. pleasing; delightful. 2. using charm; exercising magic power.

Of course, that’s an English dictionary. If one were to look up ‘charming’ in a French dictionary, I imagine you would likely see a picture of Audrey Tautou in her title role of the comedic romance Amélie. And knowing her, the picture would wink at you.

Courtesy Claudie Ossard Productions

The full title of the film, translated from French, is “The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain” and we catch up with her in Paris where she works as a waitress. Her life has been somewhat odd, to say the least, and sadness and tragedy are all around her. But Amélie is unwilling to let such little things ruin her sunny disposition. A chance discovery behind a loose tile in her bathroom launches her on a transformative journey that soon sees her affecting the lives of those she encounters for the singular purpose of bringing joy. She is just as comfortable and as happy being a matchmaker as she is a prank-playing vigilante. The one life Amélie seems incapable of repairing, however, is her own — it will take someone as singularly steeped in imagination and quirkiness as herself to draw her out of her Technicolor shell. The young man who collects the discarded photographs of strangers from passport photo booths, for example.

Technicolor is no exaggeration. The color palate of this film leaps directly off of the screen. Paris is portrayed with a great deal of splendor and whimsy, though director Jean-Pierre Jeunet got a little bit of stick for not including more minorities. This is a minor quibble, compared to the volume of praise he’s rightly earned for the vibrant colors that permeate this film. Clever editing has underscored the tint of Amélie’s world without making the people look discolored. Unlike other tricks used to supersaturate a movie, like those in Revenge of the Fallen for example, these Parisians don’t look at all like they have cheap spray-on tans.

Courtesy Claudie Ossard Productions
I wish I had a better shot of this moment.

As pretty as the film might be, it absolutely would not work without the singular and unforgettable performance of Audrey Tautou. She inhabits the unique character Amélie with an innocent pixiness that makes her incredibly endearing. Many of the things she does are things that might not to occur to a “normal” person, but in her mind they make perfect sense and not once does Tautou convey any sort of confusion or even hesitation when it comes to her behavior. It’s a refreshing and unapologetic blast of optimism and goodwill in a cinema and culture dominated by “escapism” that tends more towards realism than surrealism. And isn’t escapism about escaping from the real world? Or at least, shouldn’t it be?

Amélie certainly thinks so, and challenges us to do the same thing as its blithely child-like protagonist. Not necessarily the introversion and pouring salt into people’s liquor, but finding joy in the little things during the course of our everyday lives. There’s no need for Amélie to boot up an expensive multi-player shoot-em-up experience or troll the Internet in search of the human contact she’s loathe to admit needing, when she gains just as much pleasure from skipping stones, sticking her hand in a sack of grain or wondering just how many people in her neighborhood are experiencing orgasms at a particular moment. As much as it’s necessary for her to occasionally emerge from the world she’s built herself inside her head, it’s still a world full of vibrant color and unabashed joy that has a universal appeal and, as much as some marketers would have you believe otherwise, is incapable of being captured in bottle, package or pill form.

Courtesy Claudie Ossard Productions
Is this image showing Amélie, or us?

This movie’s title doesn’t mean it’s just about someone named Amélie. In a way, this movie is Amélie. It has a spring in its step, an overall lightness of tone undeterred by the harsh reality it runs into on occasion and an attitude that refuses to turn things down or conform to societal norms. It never crosses that line into ‘crass’ or ‘gross’ humor that seems required of so many American comedies. Oh, there are bits about sex aplenty in Amélie and it is definitely an adult comedy, but it’s every bit as smart as it is funny. And therein lies its greatest strength, in my opinion.

Rather than take your intelligence or imagination for granted, Amélie takes it by the hand and pulls it through the streets, breathlessly telling us everything we could be seeing if we just opened our eyes. There’s a sequence in the film itself that parallels this overall sentiment. We all have blind spots, where wonders and benefits and whimsy sit unnoticed, and the moments when those spots are illuminated need not be so rare. As much as the film wants to teach us this, it’s something Amélie herself needs to learn and so we’re learning right along with her. Despite the lightness of the movie’s tone, its meaning is pretty dense, in that there is a lot of it. With only a little smile and some whimsical music from an excellent soundtrack behind her, Amélie says a great deal more in a single moment than some other films can over the course of two hours.

Courtesy Claudie Ossard Productions
“Obtenons dangereux!”

It’s not often that a movie takes on a life of its own in one’s headspace like this. Amélie isn’t trying to make you think in some socially conscious or disturbing way, however. It doesn’t come into your head bearing portents of doom or badly-written pamphlets full of shoddy logic. She brings mulled wine and her famous plum cake, just to make you smile. It’s a deeply personal and intimate movie that has the good sense never to take itself too seriously or dwell overmuch on its subject matter. Yet, at the same time, its whimsical lightness of tone completely belies the way it affects its viewer. For my part, at least, I found myself touched, encouraged, enchanted and delighted. The sort of feeling Amélie engenders is difficult to quantify and I for one wish I could bottle the feelings it’s given me. Not because I want to make a million dollars, though the money certainly wouldn’t hurt — I just want to feel this way more often. There’s too much darkness in the world, too much dour doom and gloom. If you’re as sick of it as I am, put Amélie on your Netflix queue. I guarantee that, among other things, you’ll never crack a fresh crème brûlée the same way again.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

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Ever since I introduced the poll that lets fine people like you chime in on which movie gets ‘the treatment’ every week, one film has consistently and patiently waited its turn. I knew of its existence, heard it was extremely well-done and of interest for many reasons, including the fact it’s an adaptation of a novel. It finally won this past week, and I sat down to watch it last night with little to go on save knowledge of its long-form fiction origins, the sentiment that its plot is difficult to encapsulate (which it is, I only got my synopsis down after a half-dozen attempts), the touting of its female lead and the warning that this movie is long. At two and a half hours, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo certainly devours your evening, but considering that I was never bored, always intrigued and eager to find out what happened next, I’d call it an evening well-spent.

Courtesy Music Box Pictures

The story begins with the conviction of Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist accused of libel by a powerful industrialist. While Blomkvist suspects he was framed, he knows he can’t fight the industrialist’s legal team alone and resigns himself to spending some time in jail. Before his sentence begins, however, he is contacted by the reclusive patron of a powerful family living on an island off the coast. The old man’s neice, his favorite girl, has been missing for 40 years and he wants Blomkvist to find her. He finds himself drawn into a tangled web of tense relations and dark secrets, but he doesn’t start putting the pieces together until he gets a tip from a girl who’s been hacking his laptop – the girl with the dragon tattoo.

The novel upon which the film is based was originally titled Men Who Hate Women. It’s a dark story, superficially reminiscent of thrillers like Silence of the Lambs and Seven, or crime dramas like L.A. Confidential or Mulholland Drive. Moreover, the notion of a crime in a remote location with a limited number of suspects with intricate connections is evocative of even older dramas, those penned by Agatha Christie or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Despite the prevelance of computer hacking and other modern trappings, there’s something seriously old-school about this yarn. Not many movies these days make a character going through old non-digital archives a gripping scene.

Courtesy Music Box Pictures
Not your typical heroes.

While we’re on the subject of characters, the emphasis on their reality and dimensionality is clear. The protagonists are never invincible and the antagonists are never cartoonish. Conclusions are reached and actions are taken for reasons that are not contrived or convenient. It keeps the story very grounded and surprisingly immersive. You lose yourself quickly in these peoples’ lives, especially when it comes to Blomkvist and Lisbeth. Blomkvist is a decent guy with a good head on his shoulders and a deep hunger for the truth that lies at the heart of any good and true journalist, but while he’s the gateway into the story, he’s definitely not its star.

The girl of the title, Lisbeth Salander, is a haunted, driven, asocial and violently independant young woman. Her actions, attitude and outlook are informed by a past that has lead her into being kicked around by the mental health and social authority systems. Being told who to be and how to act for years has left Lisbeth fiercely determined to make her own way. Actress Noomi Rapace never throttles back on Lisbeth’s intensity. Everything she does, every move she makes, has determination and purpose. Despite the tendency for the older gentlemen in thrillers and dramas to play chess with the lives of others, at this table, Lisbeth is Bobby Fischer and most other people aren’t sure of how the knight is supposed to move.

Courtesy Music Box Pictures
As much as I like Wonder Woman, Lisbeth’s a much more interesting “heroine.”
(Anti-heroine?)

Something that struck me as odd is that this movie seems to be completely uninterested in the gravity of its own subject matter. It’s taking on things like misogyny, child abuse, indoctrination and rape but it never does so to the point of belaboring or dwelling overmuch on the matters. These things just happen, and the characters need to deal with them. It’s a slow burner, in that scenes take time to set up and pay off but never fall into the realm of uninteresting exposition. It’s detailed and meticulous, never taking our intelligence for granted. It might not have been necessary to go into as much depth as it does initially setting up the backgrounds and underlying motivations of the duo tackling this bizzare and ultimately disturbing case, but I feel this decision was rooted in the source material. I haven’t read any of Stieg Larsson’s work, but I get the impression the filmmakers were as faithful to the novel as possible. I really can’t fault them for that, but I’m also aware that not everything in a novel is necessary for a story on film to work.

The foundation of this film and its success, however, isn’t just the late novelist’s work, it’s the reality of its characters, settings and situations. From the way Blomkvist looks and behaves to the fact that Lisbeth uses a Mac with software we recognize instead of some sort of magic device as computers are often seen in American media, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo tells its story without hyperbole or hooplah. It’s not overtly romanticized or saddled with trying to fit into a particular genre for convenient marketing. It’s straightforward storytelling driven by characters that are well-rounded in their writing and excellently portrayed by their actors. Available via Netflix’s instant service, I’d recommend this for any fan of crime drama, good character development or foreign films. And you should definitely see this version if you’re a fan of the novels, because Hollywood has gotten their claws on it and are making their own version. I expect it’s going to have more beautiful people, more bombastic music and more telegraphed dialog in it, but I’ll try not to hate it on principle. Other Americans have the hate market cornered and I really don’t want to step on their toes. They have guns.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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