So, I watched Borat for the first time last night.

I feel like there’s nothing I can say about it that wouldn’t ruin someone else’s first time viewing of it, so I’ll refrain from sharing a review.

Except to say it’s been a long time since a movie made me laugh that loud (and while alone) while experiencing that much discomfort. I thought it was brilliant and tasteless and irresistible.


There’s probably not a more timely film than Marjane Satropi’s animated history Persepolis. Based on her graphic novels, the film recounts Satropi’s experience during the Iranian cultural revolution, the toppling of the Shah, and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism that resulted in radical changes in Iranian day-to-day life.

The story itself is wrenching. In childhood, idealist Marjane sees things one of two ways: her way or no way. She spouts political dogma without fully understanding its implications, but then watches in horror as her family members and neighbors are imprisoned and assassinated during the tumultuous revolutionary period. The subsequent war with Iraq that followed for 8 years drains the nation of everything but its belief that women are so valuable that they should be completely shielded from the eyes of men.

Fleeing to Vienna, Marjane in her teenage years sees her world from the outside and thus becomes a stranger to it. She struggles to find a place for herself abroad while understanding the differences between the West and Iran.

The stark black and white animation is an effective metaphor for the black-and-white perspectives of fundamentalist religion, and the motion in the film is unique and interesting, using computer animation to provide techniques not possible through hand drawing. Marjane as a narrator is both endearing and unknowable in odd ways, but it is easy to empathize with her situation. The film nearly pointedly makes the statement that religion’s impact on government is often debilitating to civil liberties and does make some arguments for recasting our eyes on our own government to assess the damages incurred over the last decade. But mostly, Persepolis feels a little like a warning, a cautionary tale. At one point, Marjane’s grandmother scolds her for forgetting Marjane is still wearing her head scarf. “Fear so quickly leads to complacency,” the old woman reminds her. A reminder many of us need to hear.

"Don’t Watch This"

In the words of Aimée Baker’s recurring blog feature, Don’t watch this.

The Underneath
dir. Steven Soderberg, 1995

Although I love most Soderberg films, this one just never captured me. It begins with a spliced-up narrative jumping quickly between the end of the film and the beginning of the film, but nothing is really happening in either instance, so you can’t feel like Soderberg’s giving you any compelling reasons to stay on board.

Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows get star billing in this film, with his lips providing some unique supporting performances. Elisabeth Shue, Paul Dooley, and Joe Don Baker seem to do everything they can think of to tame the wild eyebrows, but to no avail. They just aren’t as interesting.

The dialogue is quiet, stilted. The performances are, by and large, wooden. You can see Soderberg playing with the ideas that will later come to fruition in the classics Traffic (color-saturated film stock) and Out of Sight (jump cuts, sensual cinematography, and appropriation of the noir tradition), but here, nothing comes together cohesively to make the film consistent or enjoyable.

Let’s just say I wasn’t encouraged to look too far “underneath” the surface of this film, which is a purported remake of the noir classic “Criss Cross.” Soderberg is lightyears better when doing his own stuff.

2 Days in Paris

No, it’s not the limply-anticipated sequel to the Hilton heiress’s sex video…

It’s the new Julie Delpy film!

I know, I can’t believe it either.

2 Days in Paris covers just that amount of time in the lives of Marion and Jack, a binational couple who live primarily in New York but who have just enjoyed a vacation to Venice. They stop in Paris to visit with Marion’s family and rest before heading back stateside.

Adam Goldberg and Delpy portray what felt to be a realistic relationship, at least in the way that a relationship can get after two years. The dialogue in the film was natural, and again, I hate to say “realistic,” but I think I’ve said some of the things they say to each other. Mostly, they argue, play-fight, and come up with new reasons not to have sex (“This French condom is too small!” “The condom wasn’t small; your ego was too big!” etc). Jack founders through Paris with minute French language skills while Marion runs into former lover after former lover, friends, etc.

The film follows a traditional relationship-based romantic comedy arc (boy has girl/boy might lose girl/situation is resolved), but Delpy’s direction enlivens what would otherwise be a film of talking heads laid over a Paris travelogue. Delpy infuses the story with commentary on international relations and French culture, but her filming style was the most apparent element she brought. Infusing much of the film with fast motion photography or jump cuts, Delpy keeps the viewer from drifting off into boredom when the couple isn’t fighting or loving.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. It definitely had some missteps along the way, but it was an interesting film, kind of a quiet and reflective film—a nice change of pace, although my week has turned out to be distinctly French, hasn’t it?

I Know What You Did Last Weekend

Last night I paid money to see a Lindsay Lohan movie and I didn’t even regret it.

I Know Who Killed Me seems to want to be your typical revived-sniff film along the lines of the recent Captivity: young girl in trouble, is tortured by an unseen man for his enjoyment, etc. But it takes some strange twists and turns along the way—one of which lands squarely in absurdity—and is done with a fairly masterful cinematic hand.

Lohan’s performance is actually worth mentioning as she creates two unique personalities in the film: one, a red-drenched stripper in a “gentlemen’s club,” the other a seemingly Anne of Green Gables-ish student of creative writing (!) heading to Yale (!).

Although the plot isn’t what I’d call “gripping” (I’d unraveled the mystery halfway through, and I’m a dumb movie watcher, so if I figure it out–wow.), but what is unique about the film is its use of color. The use of blue and turquoise tones throughout the film becomes almost hypnotic in a strange way as I would say a majority of costumes, sets, and props incorporate the color. It does through mise-en-scene what a film like Traffic did in post production, drenching the actual film stock in a bluish tone to create mood. The effect is otherwordly and wonderful here. The two worlds in the film are constrasted using the blue tone and a harsh, seething red tone.

Along with the color saturation, the director has edited this film well, artfully, in fact, by using fades-to-red and fades-to-blues that are actually fairly haunting. The editing is, at times, effectively jarring as well, giving the overall narrative a choppy, truncated…dare I say amputated?…feel.

Although not what I’d consider a classic of cinema, this film was created by someone who is obviously a student of the classics of cinema, taking notes from both Hitchcock and Almodóvar along the way, and this is probably something I’d watch again, and not just because Lohan’s boyfriend is the film is endearingly earnest and cute, although those are both traits I applaud in a man.

You would also enjoy this film if you’ve ever fantasized about torturing Lindsay Lohan.