A Few Thoughts On Watching Foreign Films (Or: Why I Prefer Dubbed Movies To Subbed Ones)

I really don’t like watching subtitled foreign flicks. I know most film aficionados prefer the subs because they’re more authentic and I can understand that, but being the multitasking maniac that I am, I have a lot of trouble reading a movie while doing something else (usually reading or writing on my computer). Yes, that makes me lazy and unfocused, but that’s just how it is. There’s lots of movies on my Netflix Instant queue that I’ve been really excited about watching, but have turned off once I hear a language I don’t understand and those familiar white letters pop up on the screen. Sorry La Femme Nikita, today’s not the day for us to finally hang out.

Last night, when I turned on 13 Assassins, I wasn’t surprised that it was subtitled, but I was surprised that I wound up watching it. Having done some actual work during the day and only tackling a few personal blog posts, I decided to go with it. I think some of my annoyance with the slow pace of that movie, as discussed here, came from having to read SO MUCH in what I thought was an action movie! I get that the filmmakers were also trying to layer some drama in there, but that’s not really what I was looking for. This is roughly the equivalent of being angry with The Dark Knight for not having enough fight scenes.

I realized while watching 13 Assassins, that subtitles make me feel even more disconnected from a foreign flick than I already am. We like to think that we’re people of the world and understand how other cultures work or maybe that people aren’t really all that different around the world, but that’s not the case. Culture and history are very singular to particular areas and unless you’re from that area or have fervidly read up on them, there’s going to be a disconnect when you try to absorb the art coming from, based on or set in that world by someone who comes from that world. There will be in jokes and points of reference that the people who do come from that culture will understand, but outsiders might not. I don’t think this is a reason not to watch a movie by any means, I’m just saying that it can inhibit understanding and enjoyment.

Basically, you’re missing out on some of the filmmaker’s intent. Adding to that problem is the fact that subtitles completely destroy the cadence of dialog. You’re reading lines at your own pace (if you’re fast enough to catch them all) which makes everything seem rushed and off. Jokes are ruined, timing is off and you’re put out of the story even further.

It’s like this. Consider a movie being played in a theater. You’re sitting there as the previews play, but before it starts, you have to put on these glasses that are just the slightest bit foggy. The fog is not understanding the culture. Add on top of that the idea that you’ve got to focus your eyes on the bottom of the screen, drawing your attention away from action, drama or whathaveyou to read the subtitles. Then imagine the speakers have been switched from the actors’ voices and replaced by your own voice reading the script. That’s a lot to deal with while trying to kick back and enjoy a movie.

For the record, I’m not crying out for the kind of dubbing where they insist on trying to match up the dialog with the mouth movement, Godzilla-style. Creating good, intelligent dubbing that doesn’t sound awful and also represents the original cadence can be difficult, but I think good films deserve it.

So, you’ve got the foggy glasses on and your eyes are focused on the bottom of the screen where nothing of importance visually happens so you’re missing things. You’re also probably confused about who’s who when it comes to the characters. I’m not falling into the old “they all look the same to me” stereotype, but when your attention is already split and this group of people is all dressed very similarly (as is the case in 13 Assassins with their dark robes, similar haircuts and swords) you’re inevitably going to get confused about which character is which. Wait, is that guy the main guy’s nephew or is he one of the building-block guys (the initial set of five or so guys who aren’t super important on their own aside from offering numbers and swords to the flick). Obviously, this isn’t Power Rangers and I don’t expect everyone to sport a different colored uniform or anything, but a little more visual diversity would be great. I remember the spear guy and the guy who isn’t actually a samurai and the main guy and the guy that looks like a combination of Robert Downey Jr. and John Belushi (HE’s the nephew). But, wait, what were their names? Aw crap, what’s happening NOW? Gah!

Basically, foreign films make us work a lot harder than ones in our own language with familiar set-ups. You can’t just plop down, understand the basics of culture and enjoy these films. They require some deftness from the audience, more of your attention and brainpower and maybe a little Wikipedia research to fully appreciate (or at least appreciate the majority of as I don’t know if anything can be fully appreciated). With so much going on and attention being payed, would it be so bad to help us out a little bit by going the dubbed route? Methinks not.

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We Want Action: 13 Assassins (2010)

Much like last week’s Cold Weather, I checked out 13 Assassins on the recommendation of a friend instead of my usual method of finding movies, which is flipping through Netflix Instant and seeing what tickles my fancy. I’m not sure if I would have gotten around to watching this flick on my own. While I love action flicks–as you all know–I tend not to like ones set in feudal Japan. Why? I’m not exactly sure. I didn’t really like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon the one time I watched it and then there’s all those crappy martial arts flicks of the 70s that never live up to expectations. But I think I figured it out while watching 13 Assassins.

These movies–and pretty much any story set in this time period–is pretty much the same. One guy’s bad, really really bad with absolutely no redeeming qualities. The problem is that he has power or is protected by the societal structure of the times. He’s usually got a pretty big army at his back or is one of the best fighters around. As such, a small band of warriors must secretly band together and go after the bad guy. There’s a big fight, nearly everyone–including the bad guy–dies and a very few people walk away at the end.

That’s essentially the plot of 13 Assassins. It just seems to me like there has to be more room for interesting stories that can be set in that time period. Maybe if it was 13 Assassins Vs. Zombies, I’d be more interested, but that might just be me. I can watch a ton of “Dude gets wronged and goes after the bad guy” flicks, but this story grates on me? That’s on me, obviously, but that’s how it is.

Because the plot is so familiar to me, I was pretty bored during the part of the movie that leads up to them actually going on their journey. This part of the flick is basically broken down into two sections: showing how bad the bad guy really is and amassing the assassins (I’m way more proud of those two words strung together than I should be). I have four problems with this part of the movie. I already mentioned knowing the plot, so that’s one. The way I know that plot is because it’s told to me in the beginning of the movie. “This guy’s bad, he’s a jerk, let’s kill him” essentially. So, I’m in, I get it. That’s the shorthand way of setting the movie up, let’s get to the carnage, right?! Nope. Now we’re shown how bad the guy is. Twice. My third problem with this section is that the “bad guy is bad” sections border on torture porn. He rapes this woman and kills her husband, he has a girl whose legs and arms he cut off as his plaything and he kills a whole group of people, ending by shooting arrows around a child tied up in the middle of the courtyard. He’s bad, we get it. Let’s move on. My fourth problem is kind of stupid, I admit. In a movie like this where I already know the background, I’m slapped in the face with how bad the bad guy is and I’m anxiously awaiting the fight scenes, I don’t care about the relationships of the people going off to fight.

Once we finally get to the adventure, though, it’s a pretty great movie. There’s some craziness trying to get the bad guy away from his army with all the ups and downs you’d expect from such a thing. The real gold comes with the huge final battle at the end of the movie. The good guys somehow set up this amazing set of traps throughout this entire village. We’re talking about bombs, stickwalls cutting off their exits and even an entire area filled with swords so a few guys can take on an army. That’s my particular favorite part of the movie. Really creative, fun and smart, plus wonderfully shot.

Overall, I feel like the movie should have kicked off with the voiceover/text thing (it was subtitled, so I don’t remember which it was, all I know is that I was reading text) leading right into the men heading off to battle. Maybe flash to a few scenes of the bad guy being bad and the band being put together and then bam, you’re on the journey. Since these kinds of movies are so formulaic and we all know the shorthand, why not just dive in? Maybe I’m thinking too much like an American watching a Japanese film. I’ve actually got a whole post brewing in my head about watching foreign films and the problems with subtitled films. I’ll hopefully get that up later today.

Just Finished Doctor Who Series 6.0 (2011)

Well, that was quite the half season, wasn’t it? My initial reaction to hearing that the sixth season of Doctor Who was split in two halves was negative, but the positive aspect that I wasn’t taking into account was that it would mean I would get the episodes in my hands a lot faster (we don’t get BBC America or torrent, so we wait for them to pop up on Netflix). I also discovered that seven episodes are a lot easier to take in and absorb than twice that which is good when doing so in a fairly short period of time. Something I’ve talked about before when watching seasons like this is that, in our zeal to finish them, we miss some of the details. And even if we don’t miss the details, it becomes information overload at times. We watched the fifth season–and all the seasons of Doctor Who post-relaunch, really–that way and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure who some of the callback characters were by the end of this half of this season.

My other concern with watch a half season of a series was that it would end on a cliffhanger and we’d be waiting however long to see the next one. Halfway through the last episode of the second disc, I asked a buddy about torrents, but I wound up not downloading them. I can’t stand watching shows on my computer when I’ve got a perfectly good TV sitting right there. Anyway, this fear of getting something less-than what I’m used to proved to not be an issue.

I think these might be the seven best consecutive episodes that I can remember. Some basic plot spoilers follow. “The Impossible Astronaut” was a pretty gigantic mindbonk that set up the rest of the season. That carried directly over into “Day Of The Moon” which not only went back to the 60s, but also utilized the brilliantly designed Silence who can only be remembered when they’re seen. As soon as you turn away, they disappear from your memory. Awesome idea. “The Curse Of The Black Spot” combined pirates and aliens in such a way that I want to see a spin-off of those dudes flying through space. “The Doctor’s Wife” was a brilliant episode written by one of my all time favorite writers Neil Gaiman that took the TARDIS’ consciousness and placed it inside a human being. It was great hearing their shared history from the point of view of the TARDIS. I think this might be one of my favorite episodes of the show as a whole and I thought that even before I remembered Gaiman’s involvement.

The fifth and sixth episodes comprised a two-parter called “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People.” This pair featured a group of scientists who used doppelgangers to physically do the things that they couldn’t do. As it turned out the ‘gangers were actually gaining sentience which lead to a pretty awesome series of moments reminiscent of those in The Thing where you don’t know who you’re talking to or who to trust (at least as a viewer). And that ending! Gah! Crazytown!

All of which brings us to the “A Good Man Goes To War.” Wow. Usually episodes this good and packed with awesome are two or even three parters and come at the end of a long season. This one comes right in the middle and stands out as quite the tentpole. By bringing back those characters from previous seasons (or were they all just from 5, my memory sucks) and pitting them all against an actual army of enemies with such high stakes (double high stakes, really), the writers really upped the ante and presented a quality hour of television that is also pretty high up on my “faves” list. Even better? It presumably leads into something bigger and hopefully better by the end of the actual season. Oh and they didn’t even rely on the Cybermen or Daleks too much. Bonus points there. Plus those final two reveals are just bonkers. Even with so much goodness, my favorite part of the season has to be the awesomification of Rory Pond. I don’t remember a whole lot about him from the previous season other than he was jealous of the Doctor (who wouldn’t be) and seemed like kind of a wimp. But then he did that whole Last Centurion thing, so that’s pretty great, right? They really built off that this season, developing him as a husband and potential father, leading him on a Taken-esque streak of badassness that was written and performed perfectly. I’d face those stupid Cybermen too if anyone tried to get between me and my family. Maybe that’s why I liked Rory a lot more this season, he went from being just a boyfriend to a husband. I can relate to that and I can’t wait to see what Rory does to those who get in his way with the second half of the season. Oh, and the Doctor too, I guess.

Casting Internets

Hey gang, this is going to be another long one with some fairly old links, but I think there’s a little something for everyone in here.

First and foremost, I have yet another blog I’m working on. In addition to UnitedMonkee and my dad blog Pop Poppa, I have also started a food blog called Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Check it out and enjoy! If you want to keep up on everything I write, follow me on Twitter @PoppaDietsch because everything gets linked there.

In other me news, I talked to Mark Kidwell about ’68 one-shots, Rick Veitch about The Big Lie, Justin Jordan about The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, Paul Grist about Mudman, Dennis Hopeless about Lovestruck and Bob Schreck about the CBLDF Liberty Annual all for CBR.
I’m amazed that this is the first time I’ve ever even thought about a Warriors/Ramones mash-up. Thanks for enlightening me Nathan Stapley! (via Gallery 1988)

There’s been a lot of back and forth between Anthony Bourdain and Paula Deen, Andrew Zimmern defended his fellow Travel Channel host on his blog. It’s a great read about food awareness and cooking.

Speaking of food blogs, I just discovered CB Cebulski’s Eataku. Everything he eats looks amazing.

Reading the Horror Movie A Day review for Twice Dead made me want to watch that movie again.
Wynn Ryder drew Sean Connery’s James Bond from Dr. No. I of course and reposting and linking to his site.

Why oh why didn’t Sly Stone just record an all new record instead of the same old songs? Hopefully I’m Back will remind Stone of how fun recording can be and he’ll do something more original next time! (via Rolling Stone)

Rolling Stone also tells me that Krist Novoselic will be performing the entirety of Nevermind with various Seattle bands in that town on September 20th. That is a show I would like to hear live complete with everything Novoselic says on stage. While I haven’t fully written about my love of Planet of the Apes or even reviewed any of the flicks on this site, I am a HUGE fan who hopes he can get out to see Rise in theaters. In the meantime, I’ll settle for Dan Hipp‘s art inspired by the movie. And by “settle” I mean “bask in the glory of.”
Have you guys seen Giorgio Comolo‘s Galactus art? It’s amazing. (via Kirby-Vision)

Just Finished The IT Crowd (2006-2010)

Back around the time the missus and I watched Veronica Mars (can’t remember if it was before or after we finished), we gave the first three episodes of the British series The IT Crowd a shot. It didn’t really take. But, earlier this week I was looking for something to immerse myself in and decided on this geek-centric after some Netflix Instant queue flipping. I’m really glad I did.

If you’re unfamiliar, the show is about the information technology guys at a big company and their newly hired boss who knows nothing about computers. Chris O’Dowd (who played the cop in Bridesmaids) stars as misanthropic Roy alongside Richard Ayoade’s ubernerd Moss while Katherine Parkinson plays the role of their bosslady (ie relationship manager). The show revolves around their misadventures in world that doesn’t understand them or their business (every time someone calls for computer help, they automatically ask if the clueless victim has turned the computer off and on again). There’s also enough geekery of all sorts to be found on set to keep you busy for a year from indie art all over the walls and comics being read by Roy to all the tech jokes you can handle. One episode revolves around D&D while a few others around British TV shows. There’s even an extended A-Team bit!

So why didn’t I like the show right off the bat? Well, those first few episodes are kind of dumb. Have you ever seen Extras? Remember how Andy got that show When The Whistle Blows that was a workplace comedy set in pretty much one big room and corny catchphrases were being bandied about like badminton birdies? Well that’s what The IT Crowd seemed like at first. I don’t really have a problem with broad comedy like that, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. People I know and whose opinions I agree with really dug this show. Really? THIS show?

I don’t think there’s anything particularly game changing between episodes three and four, but maybe I was just in a better mindset when I turned the fourth episode on this week. Maybe there’s a huge jump in quality or comedy between those episodes. I’m not quite sure. Maybe I just said “screw it” and let myself enjoy these goofy characters who can’t really seem to catch a break. While I did wind up quite enjoying the show, I can’t say it ever really broke away from the goofiness that Extras was poking fun at. There are some eye-rollingly dumb moments, but then they’re followed up by a joke so brilliant I couldn’t stop laughing.

I’m not familiar enough with British comedy to know whether the brains behind The IT Crowd dressed their wolf of a comedy up in trite sheep’s clothing or not. It’s definitely possible. They might be playing with the form or expectations or whathaveyou. It could also be one of those situations where maybe one writer in the room is completely brilliant and tosses out all the best lines. Who knows? You also can’t discount the performances by O’Dowd, Ayoade, Parkinson and their co-workers and bosses. These people sell the joke and the goofiness and even revel in it when appropriate. O’Dowd carries himself perfectly as a man who acts like he’s better than normal people but also really wants to fit in with them. Ayoade doesn’t care about fitting in. He lives with his mom, sports a child’s backpack and runs like he’s still in kindergarten, but he’s also quite smart. Meanwhile, Parkinson has such a way about her. She’s smart and conniving and understands people, but never really utilizes any of those skills to improve her station for very long in life. Gnarled toe episode aside, I think she’s also got a kind of sex appeal that only comes from funny, confident (and possibly only) British women who aren’t afraid to really go for that gag.

In addition to the people being well thought out and put together, I also find myself fascinated by the sets, specifically the IT department’s subterranean headquarters. As I said above, there’s all kinds of art, comics, toys, games and tech strewn about, but to make the “what’s that?” game even more entertaining, things move around the set. The sets also seem to get a big change-up between series’ which reminds me of my days working at Wizard. I wound up being in a lot of different offices, but I had a lot of fun decorating each one with pages ripped out of comics, drawings from friends, magazine ads, posters and a small army of action figures displayed on the desk. Even Jen’s not-geeky office evolved from a dank closet to a pretty normal looking business office (with it’s fair share of art and what not on the walls too). There’s a lot to be said about a set that looks so real and can also be shot from a series of different angels. Sometimes it took me a while to figure out where the heck they were in that big space.

As I mentioned, the first four series’ of the show can be found on Netflix Instant and there’s only six eps per series, so check it out won’t be a huge time suck. I think you’ll enjoy it if you can get pass some dumb, silly jokes. It’s worth it to get to the genius ones and I say that as a person who despises slogging through bad episodes to get to the good stuff. There’s lots of goodness in the first few episodes, it just gets way gooder as it progresses.

80s Odyssey: My Chauffeur (1986)

I didn’t really have any expectations for My Chauffeur. I didn’t really know what it was about, but it fit the bill of being a goofy movie from the 80s with a cute girl in the lead, so I gave it a watch. And really, that’s what the movie’s all about. Casey’s a girl working a crappy dishwashing job in a crappy restaurant when she gets the opportunity to become a chauffeur with a bunch of stuffy old drivers who want to keep things all-male. She’s young and fun and dresses like kids who wanted to look like Madonna did back in the late 80s, so you automatically like her and want her to succeed when all those old stuffed shirts are rooting for her failure.

After the first 20 minutes or so I figured it would be one of those workplace comedies, like Empire Records or Car Wash, especially as her exploits tended to focus on either working against sexism at home base or wrangling the weirdest people in town (I assume it’s set in LA). But then I remembered the name of the film. It’s called My Chauffeur, which makes you assume that the star of the movie should be the person being driven around right? Well that turns out to be a cute, hard working boy who winds up eventually falling for Casey. But he’s a rich guy and she’s poor!

There’s really strange ending that I’ll get to in a minute. Before that, there’s a scene in the movie after the plot with the guy starts up that seems kinda pointless, but features a young Penn and Teller. I’m a big fan of Penn Jillette’s podcast Penn Point and even follow him on Twitter (here’s my account if you’re interested), so this was a fun moment. I tweeted out something about seeing him in the movie and how young he looked. I didn’t think anything of it BUT THEN HE RESPONDED! It was just a quick comment about boobs, but it was supremely cool. This was a week or so back and since then his book God No came out, so I really think it was just a matter of good timing. I hit him back saying that talking about this flick would make for a good segment on his podcast. No response, but I’m still jazzed to have had my first online brush with fame.

Okay, so now on to the ending of the movie, which is pretty strange. I guess this is a SPOILER warning if you care. The guy takes Casey to meet his dad who happens to be the guy who hired her to work for the chauffeur company. They’re telling the old man that they’re going to get married (or something along those lines) and he reveals that they’re brother and sister, that he pulled a Schwarzenegger and banged the maid who had her. Mind you, this is super gross because Casey and this guy have slept together. But then it turns out that one of the other old dudes in the movie slept with her two (actually a few others) and it turns out that Casey is HIS daughter. It’s just such a strange plot twist that seems unnecessary. I think there were hints at her being related to the old guy somehow (why else would he vouch for her for this job?) which casts a strange incestuous light over the whole thing. Ah well, it’s still a fun, goofy, proto girl power flick that’s worth a watch if you’re bored and want a few chuckles.

Friday Fisticuffs: This Scene From High Fidelity (2000)

Last week I watched the pretty rad Project-A starring and directed by Jackie Chan which also featured Sammo Hung, but I didn’t take enough notes and don’t feel like wracking my brain too much today. Another flick I started watching turned out to be mind-numbingly boring, so you’ll have to settle for my favorite scene from High Fidelity. I know for a fact that his part in this movie colored my impression of Tim Robbins negatively. Then I started hearing his political bullshit and now I can’t stand the guy. What geeky type person hasn’t imagined telling someone off like this or even causing them physical harm. I still cringe every time I see those teeth come flying out of Robbins’ mouth. Dude gets MESSED UP!