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Wednesday, 19 December 2012


After starting his life as a very poor sleeper, my son (not pictured) has become a model of consistency in the past year or so. In fact, he's so consistent that when he has a night like last night -- when a cold kept him awake and moaning miserably -- we've forgotten any techniques we once knew about how to handle it.

Part of that consistent sleeping means that you can bank on a two-hour nap from him, usually from about 1 until about 3 -- and sometimes he gives us a bonus half-hour.

For most cinephiles, two hours immediate translates into "the length of even a pretty long movie."

In the first half of this consistent year we've enjoyed, we took advantage of his two-hour naps on Saturday and Sunday (the only days I'm there to witness them) in the form of firing up a quick movie on Netflix streaming. Not every weekend and usually not both days, but often enough that I got to expecting it and looking forward to it. Documentaries were the genre of choice by my wife, and in truth, what better time to watch a documentary than in the middle of the afternoon? Evenings should be saved for fiction films, for adventures and romances and other grand spectacles.

But since moving into our new house back in June, the tradition has all but died. I'm not going to point fingers here, but it seems that somebody thinks we should spend all our time working on the house. (I'm kidding -- it's to my great personal shame that I've seen so slow to adopt the responsibilities of a homeowner.) And there are many jobs around the house that simply can't be performed while a child is biting your ankles. Nap time is the perfect time for many such jobs.

Thank goodness for the onset of winter, and the holidays.

As it's gotten cold and rainy, and as the Christmas tree has taken its lovely place in our living room, the need to complete homeowner jobs has waned a bit among my wife's priorities. And this past weekend, nap movies came back with a vengeance -- one on each day. On Saturday we watched The Queen of Versailles, and when there was no suitable documentary on Netflix streaming to watch on Sunday (none that wouldn't depress us further after the shooting on Friday, anyway), we watched the Danish comedy Klown.

The timing of the return of nap movies couldn't be any more perfect, as just this past week I've become aware of the extra urgency in watching 2012 movies before the deadline to finalize my list -- which, as discussed here, is two weeks earlier this year. And part of the return of this tradition can probably be tied to the fact that I told my wife about my earlier list deadline. She's a good sport, and is eager to help me meet my year-end goals by allocating some of our shared TV-watching time to movies on my list.

Since watching these two movies made me think of two different observations to write about each movie, I thought I'd squeeze them all into this post and just be done with them.

Finishing the doco

When I'm watching a documentary that ends up portraying its subjects in a negative light, I sometimes wonder why they even bothered to let the filmmakers finish making their film.

Sure, some documentary subjects are too delusional to realize they are coming off poorly, while others are magnanimous enough not to interfere with a process they agreed to. But neither of these quite seems to describe the Siegels, the former billionaire owners of the world's largest timeshare company, who were building the largest home in America until the financial crisis pulled the rug out from under them and all their assumptions of how the world works.

Yeah, they're a little delusional, as their plans to build a home with 30 bathrooms probably suggests. But she has a degree in engineering (though you wouldn't know it from her current incarnation, seen in the poster above) and he built one of the world's most successful companies from the ground up. So they're not idiots.

Yet as their lives careened further out of control and they became increasingly surly in private moments that they knew were being captured on camera, you have to wonder why they didn't just stop playing nice with the filmmaker. Only in footage at the very end of the movie does David Siegel start to make comments to director Laureen Greenfield asking if we could "wrap this up."

Perhaps not too surprisingly, Siegel finally got wise to how they were going to look in this movie and sued to prevent this movie from being released, as well as Greenfield directly for defamation of character. As with most things in Siegel's life the past few years, he failed.

Although there are some things about this man that come across sympathetically, it's easy not to feel too sad for him that his life got portrayed this way (in other words, truthfully). Not only does he have to answer for the audacity of all the financial excesses in his life, but even while he was building this massive mansion in the Orlando area, he never found the generosity in his heart to send his Filipino nanny back home to see her son. A heartbreaking interview at one point reveals that the woman had not seen her son, now 26, since he was 7. Given her proximity to such unimaginable wealth, that is simply criminal.

And speaking of criminal ... Siegel also takes credit at one point for getting George W. Bush either elected or reelected, or perhaps both. And then admits that he can't elaborate on his role because it "may not have been strictly legal." That may just be the most shocking revelation of the whole film. 

Daddy's movie

Because we also squeezed a couple other things into my son's nap on Saturday, we weren't quite finished with the movie when he woke up. But since he wasn't likely to see anything on screen that was disturbing for a two-year-old, we let him sit with us on the couch for the final 11 minutes of the movie. He needs at least 11 minutes of grogginess after most naps anyway, before he starts tearing around the house again.

When we finished The Queen of Versailles, though, he wasn't finished with it yet.

My son said "I wanna watch Daddy's movie." Meaning the movie we had just finished.

Never mind that The Queen of Versailles should not have held much interest for a two-year-old. The funnier thing to me is that he called it "Daddy's movie." It's unclear how he decided he should associate this movie more with me than with his mother. Especially since I don't sit there and watch my own movies that wouldn't interest him while I'm his sole supervision. (Since that's the kind of thing you might imagine me doing, I thought I should tell you that I don't.)

Anyway, we let him watch the first 15 minutes of the movie again. It was pretty absurd to have my wife and me walking around the house, engaging in little household duties, while my son sat by himself on the couch, watching this movie.

Funny in any language

It's conventional wisdom that humor suffers if the movie is made in a different language than the one the viewer speaks. Which probably explains why action movies and other blockbusters fare better in foreign markets than comedies.

This can be attributed to the fact that cadence and line delivery play a big role in whether something makes us laugh. When we don't know the words being spoken, and we can't easily detect which word is being emphasized, we have only the subtitles to cue us in as to whether something is funny. Never mind the fact that senses of humor vary greatly from country to country, either being fundamentally different or relying on local cultural references that would be lost on a foreign viewer.

So I'm pleased to say that Klown is one of the funniest movies I've seen this year, and probably one of the funniest foreign films I've ever seen.

I'm sure part of that has to do with the physical nature of the comedy. The movie is about two Danish 30-somethings (possibly 40-somethings) who go on a canoeing trip where the horndog of the pair wants to get as much poon as possible, except that circumstances have thrust upon them a 12-year-old boy that the other guy is supposed to be watching. Booty on a canoe trip? Only in Denmark, I guess.

Anyway, the physical humor is indeed hilarious, but more than that, I found myself laughing out loud regularly at simple translations of jokes in the subtitles. For whatever reason, it worked. I'm not saying this has never happened to me before -- I found the French language OSS films starring Jean Dujardin absolutely hilarious -- but I thought it was worth pointing out anyway.

I guess it's such a surprise because the majority of foreign language films that gain traction in the U.S. are not comedies. Because of the sometimes provincial nature of comedy, many of those movies never make it out of their country of origin in the first place.

A Danish Sideways

I mentioned in the previous section that Klown is about two guys who go on a trip where the acquisition of pussy is the primary goal. This was just the first way that the movie started reminding me of Alexander Payne's Sideways, and it never stopped.

In Klown as in Sideways, you've got one handsome committed man (engaged there, married here) who ventures on a week-long trip with his friend, a considerably less attractive male whose prospects are less certain (he's single in Sideways, and here he's at a rocky point in his relationship with his girlfriend). The handsome guy is going to get laid come hell or high water, while the friend is going to reluctantly support him despite his moral misgivings about the whole thing.

In both films, the handsome guy gets involved in a couple outrageous sexual escapades that don't work out well for him, and the other guy has to clean up his mess. In both films, the handsome guy ends up breaking down emotionally near the end as he regrets the decisions he's made and the impact they will have on his significant other if she finds out, realizing only too late in the game that he couldn't live without her.

But here's the really funny similarity: In both movies, the handsome guy gets his nose broken after being hit in the face with a round object by a spurned woman. In Sideways, it's Sandra Oh's motorcycle helmet. Here, it's a round vase.

For the record, the similarities to Sideways don't make me like the film any less, nor do I even accuse the filmmakers of stealing from Payne's classic. And if I did accuse them of stealing, I'd have to throw in The Hangover as well, since this movie also features a hilarious photo montage at the end, showing us some of the outrageous events that had only previously been hinted at.

I guess the humor of Hollywood movies does sometimes translate into other languages.

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