Friday, August 10, 2007

the Things I've Seen...

While Angela has been out of town, I thought I'd finally catch up on my reading - my reading about movie times, that is. Seeing movies this week has been two-fold; firstly it's a diversion from the heat, but mostly these are movies I'd like to see that Angela wouldn't.

The Simpsons Movie
Why would I pay to see a show I can see (many times a day) for free? Well, sometimes in this secular ol' world, we need to get together with our fellow man and discover the shared experience of laughter in air conditioned comfort. That's why. It's a funny picture for the whole family. Of course, if you don't need air conditioned comfort, wait for the DVD.

The first movie to have all of the dialogue written in ALL CAPS! I'm not familiar with the original comic book about Leonidas and his personal guard of 300 Spartans holding off an impossibly large contingent of Persians led by Xerxes I, but a history lesson is hardly required to see Chippendale dancers chop up an anonymous enemy. The film is better if considered a tragi-comedy. Here's a fun game; take a swig of beer every time you hear the word, "Sparta!" and chaser of bourbon every time you hear, "Spartan!" - you won't make it to the third act. The following day, you may also feel compelled to visit the gym and yell "THIS IS MADNESS!!"

The Fountain
The Fountain is a long, slow-moving sci-fi fantasy that takes place over three time periods - the Spanish Inquisition (boy, the Spanish were bastards - see "Apocalypto" ), the present and the distant future. The past time period is a depiction of a work of fiction of one of the characters and the future? Well, we're not really sure as very little is given about what is going on there? Poor Hugh Jackman does well as he hauls his emotional baggage from the past to an inky future in which he travels through space inside a huge sno-globe into a fantastically glowing fluid looking nebula. Rachel Weisz is radiant as the love of Jackman's character (and Queen Isabella). Unfortunately, this is a film where a character lives hundreds of years and barely cracks a smile, or has any noticeable "character arc". Despite some spectacular visuals, the film's over reaching themes (immortality, undying love, "better than to have loved and lost" etc.) come off as kind of pretentious rather than really interesting. They may have done better focusing solely on the story of what happens when one half of a couple has accepted their death while the other refuses to.

Apocalypto and Rescue Dawn/Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Perhaps he is an anti-semitc orthodox Catholic with a fetish for violent gore, but you got to hand it to him, Mel makes a hell of a movie. The story of Jaguar Paw, a young man enslaved by Mayan city slickers as a human sacrifice is pretty simple; escape your captors and get your wife and son to safety. The unique setting of pre-Conquistador Central America may be the film's selling point, but the fine, action-packed (nay, action-"jammed") story telling is why you'll stay. Watching the scenes through the Mayan city and temples, it's incredible to think that someone actually built this when it is such a short section of the movie. At some point, the fascination of the culture and the mild annoyance of the sub-titles fall away as you just want to see the bad guys get what's comin' to 'em and see Jaguar Paw safe and sound. Though, what is safe and sound in such a cruel and violent world (or so the movie seems to ask)?

There is real pleasure in seeing our protagonist so at home in the forest that he dives at the chance to catch a poisonous frog or determinedly struggles his way out of quick sand pit (never mind underhand pitch a wasps' nest) which is the exact opposite of Christian Bale's discomforting and desperate Dieter Dengler who crawled through the Laotian jungle to freedom in Rescue Dawn. Apocalypto's jungle inhabitants remind us of how we use to live in harmony with nature, while Rescue Dawn reflects our fight against it. I will say this; the themes that fascinate Werner Herzog, such as the forest, the violence of the natural world, and bears (see "Grizzly Man") are similarly paralleled by Mel Gibson and his depictions of faith (Jaguar Paw is abducted to be sacrificed), sacrifice (William Wallace, Jesus? Hello?), violence as part of human nature, and umm, disemboweling and torture (Braveheart, Passion of the Christ and now, Apocalypto). Yeah... he just loves the whole tearing-out-of-organs thing. It's quite a show and one the whole family cannot enjoy (pumping hearts held aloft are just not for the squeamish or those of us who are easily nauseated). If you do plan on seeing Rescue Dawn, you have to rent the documentary it's based on, "Little Dieter Needs to Fly" in which you meet the genuine Dieter Dengler and get the bonus of one of the more remarkable last shots you'll see in a Herzog film (he likes a big finish).

The New World
Terrence Malick's interpretation of the settlement at Jamestown is as you might expect, poetic, expressionistic, filled with brief vignettes of beauty and frustratingly obtuse, long and meditative yet confusing and jarring. The natural poise and "simple living" of the "Naturals" (the Native Americans) is played against the wretchedness of the English. Despite following the essentially apocryphal story of Pocahontas and John Smith, Malick creates a convincing reality by depicting the near impossibility of their romance. Also realistic, is the deflating awfulness of what Jamestown was probably like. Far from the re-enacted villages of say Louisbourg, 17th century settlements were probably as shown in this film; full of shit and piss, labours and boredom, violence and madness, ludicrous bureaucracy and a struggle to survive. What I enjoy in a Malick film may be in equal balance to what I dislike. Long and thoughtfully silent scenes free of dialogue are offset by maddening cuts when suddenly a season has passed, or has it - where are we? One moment, John Smith is pointing upward saying "sky" and the next Pocahontas is as British as a long lost Bronté sister and this after hundreds of feet of film showing hands touching breeze-blown grasses.

I guess the worst thing about this movie is that it is not about the perseverance of the early settlers, or the sadness of aboriginal peoples losing their way of life (the Westernization of Pocahontas), our remove from our own nature (the inability of the English to feed themselves in lush, fertile place), what we lose as plunderers (when Pocahontas has arrived in England she passes an African and the two consider each other knowingly) or the simple bravery of a young woman who helped relations between the New World and the Old but that the core of the film is the "great love story" of John Smith and Pocahontas. I suppose it's a desire to create a human tale in the midst of historic events, still, it feels corny and unimportant to me. All said, the movie is worth watching for the cinematography and the recreation of what it must have been like as a European to step ashore in strange place for the first time or even what it may have been like before Wal-Marts, freeways, stop lights and Starbucks.

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