Category Archives: 90s

Ridicule

220px-Ridicule_posterWhat Jesse said:

[Unfortunately, I can’t remember what Jesse said about Ridicule.  He definitely liked it, and he was very indignant at my hesitation to spend an evening trying to keep up with subtitles. But at some point over the last year, while I was coming up with excuses to avoid watching the film, I managed to misplace the email with his thoughts. Oops.  Maybe he’ll send it to me again later so I can update this.  Update: Jesse re-sent his thoughts!]

Ridicule: I really enjoyed this French-language movie about the triumph of style over substance, or, how being witty and socially adept was the primary concern of bored French aristocracy in the 1700’s. Some pretty funny moments and amazing cinematography.

Mike’s verdict:

I am really not a fan of subtitles – for two important reasons. The first reason is everything that I miss while I am reading. Dialog in a film is usually important, obviously, but the visual is even more so – in fact, if it wasn’t crucial we’d all still be listening to radio. For me, the opportunity cost of subtitles is simply too high for anything other than documentaries.  The second reason is that subtitles are regularly plagued by errors. Unless written directly by the film writers, subtitles tend to introduce changes to the meaning of dialog, and often these changes are significant.

This is why I put off watching Ridicule, and as it turns out, I was right. Both of my concerns became reality during a painful hour and forty-five minutes.

Ridicule is supposedly about wit in late 18th century France.  I don’t know anything about 18th century France, but Jesse will agree that I know all about wit.  Wit is complicated.  Wit is precise.  It requires a high level of intelligence and vocabulary from both speaker and listener.  Most importantly, for a phrase to be considered witty, there needs to be agreement on the meaning of the words.  There can’t be ambiguity in any of it, unless the ambiguity is intentional.

And therein lies the problem. I have no idea if any of the characters are witty in French, but if they are then that wit was completely lost in the translation of the subtitles I had to read.

Not only was the subtitled dialog distinctly lacking in wit, I even found it incredibly difficult to follow the story. Actually, that’s an understatement – I literally have no idea what the plot was about.  An old man gets peed on. Some people flounder around a swamp to catch fish by hand. Someone steals a shoe and throws it in a fireplace. A guy hangs himself. All the while, people claim to be witty.  That’s all I got.

Maybe Ridicule makes sense to people who can make sense of French.  But it did not make sense to me, and I think the subtitles might have been written by this guy.

1/10

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Welcome to the Dollhouse

What Jesse said:

Welcome to the Dollhouse. Plenty of cringe-inducing  moments in this one, plus some really great performances from the young actors. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1996 Sundance.

Mike’s verdict:

Welcome to the Dollhouse is, quite simply, about how much it sucks to be a kid. Written entirely from the perspective of one unhappy girl, every scene is intentionally exaggerated to emphasize just how unfair her world is. Her parents don’t love her as much as her siblings, her teachers don’t appreciate her effort, and all the kids at school think she’s ugly. She’s every 12-year-old girl who ever lived.

The film actually does a good job of portraying the awkwardness, disappointment, and unfairness that, all combined, pretty much define the early teen years. The kids definitely give decent performances, and the atmosphere really is effective. Even the conflicted bully from a bad home is believable.

Unfortunately, the film’s intention is ambiguous because its aim is slightly off.  As an affirmation that all kids feel the world is unfair, Welcome to the Dollhouse would be a worthwhile lesson for most children. The problem is that the film isn’t actually meant for children – the message is delivered too subtly. It’s only recognizable through hindsight to someone who’s already lived it and survived well enough to look back rationally; only an adult is going to understand what the film is saying. On the other hand, the lesson is wasted on an older audience for exactly the same reason. If you can understand the message, you don’t need to learn the lesson.

Maybe I just have a thicker skin than Jesse, but I didn’t find much in the way of ‘cringe-inducing moments’ either. I could recognize that a character felt awkward, but it didn’t translate to me being uncomfortable for them. At most I felt sorry for the girl in a ‘don’t worry, you’ll understand when you’re older’ kind of way.

This one gets 5/10. I wasn’t bored, and the production was good all around. But it didn’t give me anything to think about.


Happiness

What Jesse said:

…And, in honor of the passing of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman I want you to watch Happiness, a truly twisted piece of film-making. Hoffman’s performance is disturbing and brilliant and the opening bit with Jon Lovitz is absolute genius.

Mike’s verdict:

Happiness is about the most unfortunate family ever – even by movies standards. It’s centred on three sisters living very different lives but with a common undertone – nobody is happy; everybody is lonely. Even the people in their lives are lonely. And it’s really uncomfortable. So very uncomfortable.

But unlike most awkward films, Happiness is not just a series of unfortunate events or poor choices. Instead, the discomfort comes from its honest portrayal of life. Quietly anxious but evenly understated, Happiness is shocking because it all seems so tangible. The characters are real people with real flaws. Some of them are lost, some of them are sad, some of them are monsters – but they’re all still very substantial.

I really enjoy awkwardness in movies, and I definitely enjoyed this one. The acting is great, the dialog is witty and the pace was perfect – true awkwardness is not as easy as it seems. Even the soundtrack was well-chosen; Hoffman’s character’s theme song would definitely be All Out of Love.

However, this movie is not for everyone. There are a few scenes that are Hollywood icky – American Pie style. And the real awkwardness involves a level of discomfort that falls somewhere between that of Shame and Humpday. But it’s worth seeing if you’re into that sort of thing.

Favourite line of the movie: “Everyone uses baggies, that’s why we can all relate to this crime.”

8/10


12 Monkeys

What Jesse said:

The 90s were great. I wish I could live there again. Oh, and there was this movie called 12 Monkeys. It was pretty good because it happened in the 90s. The guy from Monty Python directed it, but it’s not funny. Brad Pitt is dreamy in it. He’s always dreamy, but especially in 12 Monkeys.

Mike’s verdict:

I’ve paraphrased a little – Jesse didn’t actually use the word “dreamy”, but I’m trying to keep this space mostly family friendly.

I will admit that Brad Pitt did do a good job with this. I’m not really a fan of him because most of the time he just acts like Brad Pitt and I find that makes it difficult to think of him as the character he’s supposed to portray. But in 12 Monkeys he does a really good job of pretending to be mentally unstable. Especially the first few scenes he’s in.

Bruce Willis on the other hand is just Bruce Willis. He’s always Bruce Willis. But in his case it works because in every movie the character he plays really is Bruce Willis. Plus he doesn’t seem to age.

Madeleine Stowe did an okay job too, though she didn’t really have the same dynamic range as Willis and Pitt.

Overall, I was entertained. The story was interesting, it had interesting characters, and it had interesting settings. It’s too bad it looks like it was filmed in the 90s, but I’ll still give it 8/10.