Sunday, February 6, 2011

The week that was #22

It's been a fairly busy week. When I haven't been out and about doing stuff, I've been trying to put my Fringe schedule together – and you can read about what I plan to see here.

Twilight (the film) with RiffTrax

Given how I felt about the book – which you can read about here – seeing the film adaptation of the first Twilight book wasn't on my to do list.

But then I discovered RiffTrax.

The brainchild of the guys behind Mystery Science Theatre 3000, which took old b-grade sci-fi and horror film and added commentary ('riffs') to them, RiffTrax is the continuation of that, only now the movies they give the treatment to are modern, big-budget films.

All you do is download the mp3 – the cost varies, but the Twilight one was US$4; you can buy packages, which works out a bit cheaper – and then let it play. You have to synch it up with the film, but that's relatively easy, since there's a regular reminder ('Disembaudio') which speaks a line of dialogue; if it's spoken at the same time as it's said in the movie, you're at the right spot.

And what it provides is snarky, smartass commentary about the plot, characters and dialogue – and if you're a regular visitor here you'll know that's exactly my idea of a good time.

There's a scene where Bella1 is friendly to a waitress; the commentary goes something along the lines of "This is the kindest she's ever been treated in her seventeen years as a diner waitress; she can be heard weeping from the bathroom."

Some more examples:

Bella holds her mobile phone in a very strange way: “Maybe you should try holding your cell in a quirky manner.”

Edward displays one of his many creepy expression: “That look from the 'guy in car peeping in on yoga class through binoculars' collection.”

Bella, waiting for Edward in the school carpark, pretends to read: “Can't socialise – obsessed with crappy book series.”

Adoraklutz1 Bella slips on the ice: “Damn Macauley Culkin. Iced our steps again.” and “Also I drank a 40 for breakfast, so...”

Bella's police chief father explains another mysterious death: “I think it was a bear, 'cause it sucked all the blood from his corpse, you know.”

Edward doesn't respond to Bella, but instead adopts a pained expression: “Line.”

And it's hilarious. I laughed my ass off the whole way through. There's really no way I could have watched the film without it; it's really quite awful. The acting is dreadful, and, since they've only got the wretched original stupid story to work with, the plot is woeful and so little of what occurs makes any sense whatsoever.

There are several improvements, though. By virtue of the fact it's not told from Bella's perspective, you don't have to hear the awful misuses of the English language present in the book; then there's the related issue (since it's now from an omniscient narrator viewpoint) of them adding a murder/mystery element to increase tension – though this would only be of value to people who hadn't read the book.

You can see the complete list and purchase your own RiffTrax on the official site. I'll no doubt be listening to a few more in the future – though perhaps not in the near future; I've got a Fringe to think about.

1Hat tip to My Spidey Sense is Tingling for introducing me to that word.

Black Swan

This week's film was Black Swan.

It's the story of Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a dancer in a New York ballet company; she is cast as the Swan Queen in the upcoming production of Swan Lake, a difficult and challenging role that requires her to move beyond her otherwise exceptional technical expertise and discover her 'dark side'.

Complicating the issue is her relationship with her overprotective and more than a little obsessive mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), her mercurial director Thomas (Vincent Cassel), and 'bad girl' dancer Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina's polar opposite in terms of approach and lifestyle.

The film follows her struggle to deal with the pressure of all these influences, and her eventual descent in madness – how deep she sinks, though, is never really made clear; it's that uncertainty that makes the film not only dark and disturbing, but thoroughly gripping.

Natalie Portman is nothing short of brilliant in the role – probably why she's picked up a swag of awards (including a Golden Globe) and is the odd-on favourite to win the Oscar. The supporting cast is also exceptional, particularly Kunis and Hershey.

Director Darren Aronofsky seems to have distilled the standout elements of his two previous best films to make this – it combines the darkness and twisted psychology of Requiem for a Dream and the fanatical dedication to a craft that drove The Wrestler.

It's stylistically brilliant – shot in an otherwise naturalistic, nigh-on documentary style, there is a gradual increase in fantasy elements, done to parallel Nina's growing break from reality. And of top of this is frequent Aronofsky collaborator Clint Mansell's powerful score – mostly variations on the music from Swan Lake2 – which adds to the impact.

And it's the best film I've seen in the last year. Yes, I liked The Social Network, The King's Speech and Winter's Bone but this hit me a lot harder than any of those.

2The original composer, of course, being Tchaikovsky.

Sufjan Stevens

Electic folk musician Sufjan Stevens played his first-ever Adelaide gig during the week and I – being a big fan of his album Illinois – went along.

Illinois, though, was a while ago, and his style of music has changed substantially since then; he's gone a lot more electronic and (for want of a better word) soundscape-y. And I'm not as fond of the newer stuff as I am of the older. But he has a reputation as an excellent live performer, so I was keen to see what he could do.

The result was, well, interesting. Flamboyant – fluorescent, glow-in-the-dark – costumes and video projection, and some very lengthy asides about life and spirituality and the influence of the late Royal Roberston, an eccentric American outsider artist.

While I enjoyed it, I think I'd have been happier had I seen him tour the Illinois album; I far prefer that style of music. You can read a review here.

If you've never heard his music, here are a couple of tracks; the first two from Illinois, and the third from his recent album, The Age of Adz:


  1. I haven't seen Black Swan (surprise, surprise...) but I recently read that it was also influenced by Dostoyevsky's 'The Double'. Your brief description makes me see how it could have been influenced by the book, and it being one of my favourites, I think I should give it a shot...

  2. Aww, a shout out to my Twilight snarkage! This just filled me with warm fuzzies.

    Truly, I cannot hate the Twilight Saga for all the epic snarkage it has provided me with over the last couple of years. You've inspired me to re-watch the movie with RiffTrax!

    I'll be seeing Black Swan this weekend, so I'll be back later to comment on this. Hey, did you know that the Black Swan was partially inspired by a ballet tale that was itself partially inspired by The Red Shoes fairytale?!

    World, mysterious ways in which it works, etc!