Friday, March 16, 2007

Movie Reviews

Here are some quick thoughts on movies I've seen recently:

Black Snake Moan -- It actually works as an exploitation picture. But if you're going to chain a girl to a radiator, I think you have to have the courage of your convictions and not suddenly go from sexploitation to talky stage play that wants to be about something. That being said, I would crawl over glass to someday work with Christina Ricci. I find words attributed to actors like brave and courageous a bit silly -- save those for cops and soldiers -- but Ricci is amazing.

Children of Men - Great world. Loved the world the filmmaker created. Loved the first two acts, as well. But then it all kind of fell apart in act three. You expect the big philisophical questions raised in the film to be answered but in the end you're left with Waterworld; just another dystopian run and hide movie with a different name for "dry land."

Pan's Labyrinth - Ugh. All the characters do in this film is react. Even the bad guy. Very episodic. And when the biggest turning point in the film depends on the discovery of a stolen key for a padlock that could've just as easily been broken, you've lost me.

300 - I was expecting yet another nihilistic plodding battle-to-battle comic book film, but instead found a well-plotted actioner that's actually about something and that contains strong female characters who contribute to the plot. Intentional or not, this is an allegorical play about the War on Terror. Certainly there have been a number of films made about the War on Terror, but this is the first where we're shown to be the good guys.

The Lives Of Others - I'm not a big foreign film fan, but this is the best picture I've seen all year. It comes from Germany and is set in 1984, before the fall of communism. It's a thriller that slowly tightens until you can't bear to watch and also manages to tie together the fates of three people through completely believable, yet still surprising events. It's also a uniquely unromanticized look at communism using the people who most benefit by fascist governments: Loyal government officials and the artists who entertain and propagandize for them.

Zodiac - Jake Gyllenhaal is miscast, but this is still a very very good film. David Fincher is an amazing storyteller.


Blogger Gina said...

I couldn't bear "Children of Men," because I had just read the book. It wasn't just a case of the book being better; it was more like they were in two different universes. The filmmakers actually went out of their way to preach the exact OPPOSITE of what P.D. James was trying to say, in fact. (It's a marvelous book; I recommend it.)

I would like to see "The Lives of Others" one of these days. Lots of people have recommended it.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Web Master said...


What did the book preach? I'm curious about that. I thouight the film's world was fascinating. It was like every nightmare people have about Bush coming true. I'd be very curious to hear what the book was about.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

Oh goodness, where to start? That's going to require an answer of several paragraphs, I'm afraid, just to cover all the bases! :-) I'm swamped today but will take the time to answer the question as concisely as I can tomorrow, when I'll have a little time to breathe.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

Okay, let's see . . . how to sum this up without rambling and boring you to death?

First of all, the atmosphere is completely different. There's none of the terrorism or war -- well, there are a couple of significant exceptions to that, but it's not a huge part of the story. (The immigration aspect is also a side issue -- important in its way, but still a side issue.) Xan, the dictator of England, is more of a major player and shows the intoxication and danger of power. For everyone else the atmosphere is arid and suffocating and, in short, pretty much what one might expect from a dying world with no children and no hope. There's a sterile quality to it in more ways than one. People are more inclined to be passive -- an attitude that has its own creepy quality -- than aggressive.

Which leads to another major difference. In the movie -- maybe this was just me, but I felt like the worldwide sterility was almost made into a side issue. In the book it's the central theme. You say that the film "was like every nightmare people have about Bush coming true," and I think you're right about that. But I can imagine those same Bush haters not liking the book very much. Because James subtly but unmistakably makes some very strong points about what happens to a world that's full of sexual hedonism, that devalues children, that lets its population decline as many countries' populations are declining right now -- a world a lot like ours. It's fascinating to watch the world of her book take the step from that stage, the stage we're in right now or at least coming to, to a stage where the children who were increasingly devalued are suddenly just gone. The movie, if I remember correctly, just says something like, "There was a fever and everyone went sterile," and lets it go at that.

Moreover, the book has unmistakbly Christian overtones -- James was quite up front about that in interviews. (Characteristically for her, I think, from my limited reading of her, she's made even the Christians have some major flaws, but their faith is still strong and still crucial. On that note, the mother-to-be in the book could not have possibly been more different from the mother-to-be in the movie.) But the director of the film (whose name has escaped me at the moment, sorry) was quite up front in HIS interviews about how he deliberately ditched the Christian element. That leaves a lot in the movie that doesn't make sense -- at least to me -- because they kept some of her symbols but drained them of significance (the Fishes, to name one small example, becomes just an arbritrary choice of name).

However, I will give them this much -- the refugee scenes toward the end did reflect a little of James's Christian themes, with there being "no room in the inn" and the child being born in such humble circumstances.

And finally, I felt that story and character were more important in the book, where the movie concentrated on imagery often at the expense of story. This works for some movies, but not, I think, for this one, where there was such a deep and rich and meaningful story there to be used, but which was largely twisted when it wasn't being flat-out ignored.

There, you've now been bored to death. :-) Sorry, but you did ask! But do read the book!

6:23 PM  
Blogger Web Master said...


That was an outstanding piece of analysis. I wouldn't normally say that because I'd be afraid it would come off as condescending, but I want you to know it was far from boring.

Not having read the book, I found the world fascinating. There was a lot going on and plenty to look at, but because it never answered any of the big questions it raised it needed to sustain itself through its themes -- and it didn't do that. After reading what you wrote -- I can see why. It stripped itself of those themes that would've made sense.

That hurt the film. I think it would've been possible to keep the Bush haters happy and have kept that Christian theme which would've helped the movie enormously. Because in the end it was about nothing. And in the end it lost a ton of money -- probably for that reason.

It sounds like the filmmaker was more interested in making an anti-Bush film than telling the best story he could. Christian isn't right or left. It cost him. And me two freeeking hours.

10:21 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

Thanks, that's kind of you! I kind of threw it together when I was tired, and I was afraid it would sound like I kind of threw it together when I was tired! :-)

7:01 AM  

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