Sunday, April 09, 2006

Movie / Tristam Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story

Comedy (British). Rated R, based on a good number of sex scenes, an Al Pacino imitation, and ongoing discussion of injuries to male private parts. Also the hero is depicted nude inside a giant model womb.

See also my very similar IMDB review.

Only perhaps 10% of this film attempts (with varying degrees of seriousness) to enact scenes from the "unfilmable" classic novel "The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, gent." (by Laurence Sterne, 1767). Rather it is an Altman-like parody of the whole Masterpiece Theater / Merchant Ivory historical film genre, which it deconstructs in a Monty Python / Tom Stoppard / Woody Allen-like manner.

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon deliver a good number of funny bits, some of which have you laughing on the way home, but the film is mainly about the behind-the-scenes politics, struggles, failures, and chaos of low-budget indie filmmaking: the writers and producers constantly changing the script, the actors' rivalry for credit and screen time, the pressure from girlfriends, agents and gossip writers, scenes bombing or being cut, and so on.

The big problem, in my opinion, is that the filmmakers don't deliver ANY continuity of the underlying film. We see all the cooks in the kitchen, stirring the pots, but at the end they don't serve up a plausible sequence of "Tristam" scenes, to make it look like something artistically valid was achieved. The viewer is left to assemble the out-of-order takes in his or her own mind. They could have easily delivered a "happy ending" wherein, out of all this confusion, their picture had integrity and was a success, but they don't. It just fizzles out into a kind of nihilist theater of the absurd.

The foregoing, coupled with "British style humor," is sufficiently unsatisfying that I would not recommend this film for the general viewer. However, for anyone involved with the world of acting and filmmaking it's a must-see, a wonderful, satirical portrayal of what it's really like to make and star in an independent historical drama. A real "actor's film."

Two days later: This film resembles viewing the "making of" and "out-takes" sections of a modern DVD, without the actual movie!

Eleven days later: Here's an idea. Take some other unfilmable historical novel and do what these guys failed to do. Make a similar comedy, with lots of behind-the-scenes, making-of, and out-take segments, except while you're at it, shoot a random sample of a dozen or so (i.e., not 120) dead serious, high quality, Masterpiece Theatre-type scenes (with musical score, etc.) When you're done mocking everyone, flash through bits of these in the viewing room, and then at a film festival, showing the audience weeping and giving it a standing ovation! Thus you can depict that your adaptation was a thunderous success, and send everyone home happy and satisfied, without making any actual effort to adapt that old piece of garbage. Got it?!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Movie / Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Great movie. Winner of several German film awards, and Germany's entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. A well produced, briskly paced, unsentimental, powerful portrait of intelligence (beauty) and moral courage in the face of tyranny. "Based on true events."

Sophie was a 21 year old university student in Munich who belonged to an underground group called The White Rose. In early 1943, she, her brother, and various other students were arrested, interrogated, tried, and executed (7 days later) on charges of high treason for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets. They committed no violent acts, but called for an end to the war (which after the defeat at Stalingrad appeared unwinnable), and the end of Nazi rule.

How, among millions of lives lost under the Nazis, did history come to focus on Sophie? One of her leaflets got out of the country to Scandanavia and later the Allies air dropped a million or so copies on several German cities with the title "German Students' Manifesto" (a much better funded leaflet campaign). Presumably someone then put this together with court records and personal remembrances.

Like other students on full scholarship, Sophie is highly motivated and brilliant, if lacking in common sense. Hence she is more than an intellectual match for the mediocre party officials, police goons, and kangaroo jurists who investigate and prosecute her "crimes." Although a Protestant, she appears on her way to "canonization" as an exemplar of conscience, nonviolence, and peace making.

There have been two prior movies of Sophie's story, but this one had the benefit of additional documents from the East German archives. Her cell mate Else was a real person, so presumably those moments are authentic. Also the actress closely resembles Sophie's photos.

No sex, violence, abuse, or strong language, but NOT a film for children, owing to its very mature subject matter.

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Four days later. It occurs to me that you could make a very different movie, based on the same events, from the viewpoint of (say) descendants of other White Rose members. They were all in this resistance group. Sophie's brother got the hotheaded idea to distribute the extra flyers on campus during class, hoping to incite an uprising. Sophie not only didn't stop him, but got the even stupider idea to push them over the bannister into the crowd. As a result of her wildly immature and irresponsible actions, she got all of them arrested and killed. Cut to those who lost their loved ones because of her, such as the children of Paul Probst. BUT, this would conflict with the idea that she is a saint! Oh well...