Friday, June 25, 2010

The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band)

Misfortune and malevolence plague the German village of Eichwald. Its inhabitants are more concerned with local vandalism, maimings, and deaths than the impending Great War. Yet events in the town foreshadow an even deadlier war. Designed to represent innocence, the titular white ribbon actually serves as a punishment for naughty children and raises questions about guilt, pretense, and purity. In The White Ribbon, director Michael Haneke has created a film whose horrors are enveloped in silence and uncertainty, provoking in viewers both thought and terror.
The black and white cinematography conveys the era’s severity and façade of simplicity. There is no music to direct or alleviate tension. Instead, long, sometimes self-conscious, shots develop a sense of dread until evil appears to inhabit every scene. Acting, from the youngest child to the oldest patriarch, is outstanding.
Through the social structures of a claustrophobic town, The White Ribbon examines death, persecution, religion, and vengeance. These far-reaching themes make Eichwald eerily universal.
At the conclusion of the showing I attended, a man whispered, “My God, what a movie.” Grateful for a chance to relieve tension, and perhaps in unspoken accord with the speaker, the audience burst into laughter. Still, an unsettling feeling lingered. And lingered.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Why I Like 'The Vampire Diaries' (television)

I thought the show would be worse than Twilight. Its setup is identical: a vampire falls in love with a high school girl. To my surprise, The Vampire Diaries kept me tuning in every week.

Our heroine Elena (Nina Dobrev) lives in the historic Virginia town Mystic Falls. Her parents recently died in a car crash, leaving her and her dope-head brother Jeremy (Steve McQueen) in the care of their young aunt Jenna (Sara Canning), a lovable pal but sucky guardian. Elena’s grief causes her to bond with the - unbeknownst to her - nice vampire stalker Stefan (Paul Wesley). Unfortunately, he has a vampire brother who is not so nice. Damon (Ian Somerhalder) enjoys making his brother’s life miserable and has no qualms about eating humans. He also notices that Elena looks exactly like their (yes, their) ex who lived more than a century ago.

Other cast members include Elena’s cute ex Matt (Zach Roerig), his a-hole best friend Tyler (Michael Trevino), and Tyler’s druggie girlfriend Vicki (Kayla Ewell). She is also Matt’s sister and Jeremy’s love. The town is incestuous. Then there are Elena’s best friends Bonnie (Katerina Graham) and Caroline (Candice Accola). Bonnie is sweet and supportive; Caroline is blond and bitchy.
It’s… Believable
For a cheesy show about gorgeous townsfolk and creatures of the night, it’s surprisingly realistic. (Note: I am used to television-hot actors not CW-hot. These people look like no one I've met.) The most initially stereotypical characters turn out to be some of the most complex.

It’s Funny
The Vampire Diaries doesn’t take itself too seriously. The heroine’s best friend matter-of-factly explains why she is psychic. They laugh at such a preposterous notion. (So does the audience, for other reasons, of course.) One vampire advises another: “You’re dead, dude. Get over it.”
It’s Surprising
Even though the series borrows heavily from previous vampire/teen stories, it follows its own path. It uses and plays with formulas. The pilot features Elena running through a foggy graveyard, complete with an ominous crow. It also quickly dissolves a budding love triangle cliché because a character actually acts sensibly.

It’s Consistent
They’ve done a darn good job with the vampire mythology. The explanations, including questions of vampire morality, have a basic logic. Not only that, but the tone, pacing, and character development are dependable. Unlike many shows, actions (usually) have consequences. Characters have motivations and don’t forget about what they did the previous week.
The vampire “look” is perhaps the best I’ve seen. When vamps get blood hungry they sprout fangs. Eyes become bloodshot and veiny. These immortal serial killers are scary twists on their human selves, beastlike and vicious.

The writing and acting are respectable. Nina Dobrev can be grating in a teenager-y way, but her Elena is an appealing character. Paul Wesley is somewhat one note, but he brings a wisdom and tenderness to the role of Stefan. That he manages to be less than creepy is a remarkable feat which alone elevates the show far above Twilight. Ian Somerhalder clearly relishes playing Damon, who is funny, flirtatious, and wicked, but perhaps not irredeemable.

Certain scenes are ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious, but the camp is part of the fun. Due to historical echoes, intertwining relationships, and flashbacks to the brothers’ vampire births, the show borders on epic. How can you not enjoy a show where vampires play high school football, embarrass history teachers, and attend Halloween parties dressed as – you guessed it – vampires?