Sunday, September 23, 2007

It's propaganda, dammit!

I went to see Stardust today.

It's the sort of film that you might describe as, "Like The Princess Bride", if you were a publicist, or a critic, or lazy. But bugger that, publicists and critics should take these films on their own terms. (Lazy people are all right, but).

The plot is something about a star called Yvaine falling to earth and becoming a person, and a kid called Tristan setting out to find some star dust for the girl he loves. Or thinks he loves. But doesn't. (As it turns out, he's actually setting out on a quest to find the girl he loves, who turns out to be Yvaine, though he doesn't know it). You get the picture, it's a simple enough story about love and manhood and all that stuff.

The star is played by Clare Danes, because she's a star - obviously. (Hmmm). Somewhat more disturbingly, Tristan is played by Charlie Cox. (Double hmmm).

There are plenty of nice touches in this, like Robert de Niro as a gay pirate who flies about the sky in a dirigible with the rest of his pirate crew. ('It's all right, captain - we always knew you were a whoopsie!' a member of his team reassures him in one of his later scenes.) Michelle Pfeiffer also does a nice line as head of a coven of three witches, who spend their time cheerfully sacrificing animals and taking out their entrails for divinatory purposes. (None of it is graphic, but it's certainly closer to the feel of traditional fairy tales than you'd normally get from Hollywood).

It would be nice to think that, what with the gay pirate theme and all, Hollywood released this film to coincide with Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is becoming quite the tradition, but according to Wikipedia, it was first released in the US in August. Oh well. All things considered, though, this was a pretty awesome film, and I'd go and see it again at the drop of a hat. And you should too. (Though not before you see it for a first time, obviously.)

Um.... goodnight then!


Caz said...

I'll never know if I would enjoy the film. You omitted the crucial barometer: "you'll enjoy this if you enjoyed these" - followed by a list of extremely similar and / or almost identical films.

This is essential review content, since, I've learned over the years, film viewers apparently do not like variety; they prefer to see exactly the same type of film over and over again.

Equally poor and unhelpful is that you seem to include the names of actors, but you provided me no information, no clue, as to who those actors might be - what, you think there names are a clue?

"Clare ("name of last or most well know film") Danes".

"Robert ("name of last or most well know film") de Niro".

And so on.

You now appreciate how slap shod your efforts? How uniformed I am after reading your review?

TimT said...

Robert de Niro's most famous film is 'Taxi Driver', Clare Danes was Juliet in 'Romeo and Juliet' a few years back, and Michelle Pfeiffer is from just about every film that's come out since the beginning of time.

TimT said...

If you've seen and enjoyed these films -

The Princess Bride
Pan's Labyrinth

You may enjoy 'Stardust'.

(Most reviews I've read seem to omit this sort of recommendation)

nailpolishblues said...

Awwww Ladyhawke! Matthew Broderick was so hot in that. Pity he's a midget.

You could become quite good at this sort of thing, if only you'd give all the information first go.

Ahem, Michelle Pfeiffer - Ladyhawke...

TimT said...

You might find this a cop out, but whenever I try and write a conventional review, I get bored. That's why I tend to stick to glib little reviews, like the one I did on Black Sheep a few weeks back, and not worry about the facts.

nailpolishblues said...

Not at all. Reviews are boring to both read and write. Which is why I usually avoid them.

I only skimmed this one ;)

Mitzi G Burger said...

Yes, I agree the art of reviewing has changed since Rotten Tomatoes first splatted. My idea of reviewing books has simplified thus: Read "The Fighter" by Craig Davidson. It starts like Fight Club, takes less creative risks but is better on plot. You *will* enjoy it. Or watch out for my right jab left hook combination.

TimT said...

Well, I guess this wouldn't have been written 100 years ago:

The stuff you get in the Australian Review of Books is pretty boring. I prefer the P J O'Rourke style review. (He once reviewed a Jimmy Carter autobiography basically by excerpting parts of the text and playing party games and word games with them, like a kind of textual charades. He did many other examples, too.)

Steve said...

I particularly enjoy bad reviews, at least if I think the movie is crap too. A bad review done with clever wit and humour can be a pleasure.

Tim, I like your reviews, even if sometimes I don't quite understand if you like the movie or not.

And by the way, have you ever tried the animation movies of Miyazaki? (Spirited Away is his best known in the West.) He has a major obsession with airships and flying machines. I particularly like "Laputa" and "Kiki's Delivery Service" in which airships play a major role. "Totoro" is very charming, but features no airships.

Caz said...

I really must work sooooo much harder on the sarcasm conveyance.

TimT said...

Ohhhhhh, I see what you mean. Sorry, I should have read your post more carefully!

TimT said...

Actually, I think I just took it literally since I knew this wasn't one of my best posts or reviews!

Caz said...

Note examples of criticism or complaint of a Timmy post (examples are not actual, only imagined):

"Hmm, that was crap Timmy"

"Err, sorry, fell asleep, were you saying something?"

"Time for some stimulus in your life, doncha think?"

"Dragging out the old missing sock and multiplying hangers again? Old, very old."


The Herald Sun really does list "if you liked these ... "

The correct "convention" (if one could call it such a thing) for identifying actors is as follows:

Robert (Meet the Parents) De Niro.

Clare (The Rage in Placid Lake) Danes.

The idea, I deduce, is to identify their most crappy, yet box office popular, and / or easily recalled, and / or penultimate film title.

This little prompt, I deduce, is to assist young and old flibbertigibbets who have memory spans of a gnat, or lifespans of a firefly.

nailpolishblues said...

Ah, Caz, if you didn't Timmy bash who would?

TimT said...

(Hangs head) It's true. It's all quite true...

On the plus side, I've been inspired by Caz's criticisms, real and imagined, to write a newer and better film review. It's going to be super!

Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

As we are speaking about Moving Pictures Reviews one of my favourites (and one I am in absolute agreement with) was by the Economist Murray Rothbard on The Piano:

"This brings me to The Piano, a movie which I fell into in a weak moment. The Piano is far and away the Worst Movie I have seen in many years, perhaps since what may well be the Worst Movie of All Time, the absurdist-nihilist Fellini monstrosity, Juliet of the Spirits (1965). (Note: to qualify as a Worst Movie, it has to reek of pretension and deliberate boredom: therefore, Grade Z movies such as the latest teenage monster movie don't even begin to qualify.) The Piano has no redeeming feature: it is excruciatingly slow and boring; it seems to have been filmed in muddy brown, so that it could just as well have been in black-and-white; it is irrational and absurdist, with characters either having no discernible motivation or changing their motivations on a dime. And Holly Hunter, putative Best Actress of the Year, who has always been an irrational non-actress, reaches a nadir here, her ugly lantern-jawed face made even uglier by being framed by a black bonnet, and her face fixed in an unvarying expression of grim hostility. She is also accompanied by a daughter, conceived without benefit of a husband, of about twelve, who is equally ugly and also framed by a black bonnet, and who is also unusually irritating for a kid actor. (Kid actress might even cap the horror by winning the Best Supporting Actress award.)

Hunter is supposed to have come from Scotland to New Zealand as a mail-order bride to what might be called a "planter," except he and his tiny community seem to spend all their time wandering through the jungle. Hunter and many of the other émigrés are saddled with a phony Scottish burr so thick that it is difficult to make out much of the dialogue. (Considering the nature of the dialogue, however, that's probably a blessing.)

Crucial to the "plot" is the fact that Hunter is mute. Why is she mute? As she points out in her voice over narration, she stopped talking at the age of six with no idea why. So much for the comprehensibility of these besotted characters. The film critics, who, naturally, have all gone bananas over The Piano, gush about the fact that Hunter "expresses herself through her music," her music being the piano in question. Unfortunately, we hear a lot of her piano playing in the movie. Hunter, of course, played the piano herself (there was no dubbing in of Van Cliburn or his moral equivalent), and it shows. Let's face it, Holly Hunter is a lousy pianist, and without benefit of this excruciating movie, she would not have the opportunity of foisting her lack of musicianship upon the long-suffering public. But this is by no means all: the time is supposed to be around the 1840s. OK, there was a lot of great piano music current in that era. So is she playing Chopin, or Schumann, and at least giving us a glorious soundtrack? Not on your tintype. What she plays is newly composed New Age noodling, sans rhythm, melody, or structure. So much for the authenticity of this film.

And now we come to the toperoo of this move. The directress of this movie. The directress of the film is the New Zealander Jane Campion, and one of the reasons this movie has been getting a fantastic press is because: "At last! Now the movies are displaying feminist eroticism." And on and on, about how erotic and "sexy" The Piano is supposed to be.

Puh-leeze! Emetic, not erotic, is the proper term. About the only character in the movie who both acts well and whose motives are comprehensible is Sam Neill, the unfortunate husband, who is so Insensitive and Male Oppressive that he actually is interested in sleeping with his bride. Naturally, La Hunter is as surly as possible, and instead falls into a relationship with a thuggish, beer-belly Harvey Keitel ("How wonderful it is to see a naked male body that is not ideal!"). Keitel, even though another jungle-walking "planter," has Gone Native, hangs around with dancing, happy Maoris, and has gotten his ugly puss covered with some kind of Aborigine Tattoo or Paint or who knows what. Keitel manages to win Hunter's favors in an elaborate kind of S-M game, where he will sell her back the Piano, which he, and not the husband, had paid the Maoris to cart through the woods to his hut, one "black key" at a time, in exchange for various degrees of seduction. Neill is also Insensitive enough to become enraged when he finds that his bride was fooling around with Keitel rather than himself.

In the end, the two "lovers" go off in a Maori canoe, carting the grotesque Grand Piano with them. For some unexplained reason, Hunter, who had spent the entire movie moping about her beloved piano, suddenly decides to tell the Abos to toss the piano overboard. Her foot gets caught in the rope, drowning along with her damned piano. Unfortunately, however, even that small moment of delight was denied me, and she is rescued.

The famous erotic scene of the two principals naked is enough to get almost anyone to swear off pornography. Holly Hunter in addition to her pointy jaw, has shoulders like a linebacker, and she behaves just as grimly in the allegedly joyful sex scene as she does in the rest of the picture.

One of the many puzzling aspects of The Piano, indeed, is why two grown men spend so much of their time lusting after La Hunter. At first it seems that she is the only female in the region, except that's not true either, since there is a pointless skit put on at a church by some British settlers. But even if she was the only female, and even if Neill and Keitel's sensibilities had been dulled by years in the jungle, their enthusiasm for Hunter remains one of the unexplained, irrational motivations in The Piano.

As I said, The Piano has no redeeming feature whatever. Except for poor Sam Neill, who deserves far better things (Neill was Reilly in that grand British TV miniseries, "Reilly, Ace of Spies"), everyone connected with this picture: La Campion, the actors, the costumer, the cinematographer, the whole kit and kaboodle, should have been drowned along with The Piano."

TimT said...

That certainly was a splendid piece of curmudgeonly criticism that would brighten up anyone's morning. Thanks, MCB.

Anonymous said...

That was truly breathtaking. I have a good mind (well, yes?) to print that bit off and mail it to a certain ex-girlfriend of mine who always raved about that bloody film.

Oh glorious day!

Caz said...

What a joke, hey?

Pure male fantasy: woman who can't or won't speak (talk about SEXY!); not attracted to upstanding, boorish husband; stoically complies with blackmail - sex for piano - with unknown, bit of rough; inevitably the bit of rough brings her back to life, and restores her voice.

In other words: she is erotic and infinitely sexually attractive because she is silent (a quality of perfection in any woman); her joy and voice are restored - her normality - with a good fuck from a bad man.

"Feminist eroticism"

"Erotic and sexy"


Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

My dear Lady,

A film written and directed by Jane Campion can hardly be called a male fantasy.

Nor, for that matter, is the dumb insolence shown by the main female character a fantasy for men.

Men generally prefer pleasant conversation not silence. It's the absence of nagging, the irrational offence at little things, the unreasonable expectations of mind-reading, and non-stop lecturing.

What men actually prefer is, in fact, something like this.

Caz said...




Truly brilliant!

Steve said...

Yes, it's very funny MCB Esq. By the way, how old are you, roughly?

TimT said...

That's quite a good collection on the YouTube library that MCB Esq has accessed there. This day in history is the day I was first introduced to the work of Harry Enfield.

Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...


I am roughly in my late thirties - although my tastes and preferences are strictly Victorian.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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