Thursday, October 15, 2009

Movies: August to October

My Neighbour Totoro really deserves the warm fondness that Jenni and Svend use when they talk about it. To me, it felt like an essential film in building up my understanding of Japanese fairytales and its spirit world. There is also a scene at a bus stop which plays out an incredibly audacious intersection between our normal world and the spirit world; the whole movie slowly, plausibly builds up the idea of spirit creatures living in the forest ... but this scene is simply incredible in the way it matter-of-factly brings Totoro in the lives of the main characters.

Bruno is pretty much a masterpiece of script writing. Much like Raiders of the Lost Ark, it features a protagonist who believes he's competent but who fails at every single turn. Bruno has an outer motivation of becoming a celebrity and an inner motivation of finding true love - and the film brings both of those motivations (and Bruno's dominant character trait of outrageous hyper-homosexuality) together for a draw-dropping climax. The only problem for me was that I felt many of the comedic set-pieces featured people who were in on the joke. So, the script = great; the candid camera stuff veered between okay and freaking brilliant. I now want to check out Borat.

Desperation adapts a very large Stephen King novel into a tele-movie. That means a TV budget, so instead of an actor like Terence Stamp or 1980s Peter O'Toole playing Johnny Marinnville, you have Tom Skerrit. Which, I admit, is an interesting choice. The film feels forced, in that typical Mick Garris way, with lots of extreme camera angles and stupid jump scares (a slot machine that pours blood? Really? He didn't get enough of that bullshit when he had the cash register ring up 'No Sale' in the mini-series version of The Shining?). In fact, by about halfway through I felt that Desperation was taking its visual cues from a Resident Evil game, rather than 100 years of cinematography.

On the plus side, Desperation's score has a simple memorable main theme, and it contains a couple of great flashbacks and an amazing establishing shot of the mine at the story's centre. Overall, though, I felt it rushed through the emotions of the book: there were quite a few instances where I didn't feel for the characters, or where the story moved along so fast that it was hard to follow. Also, this is a story that is very much about God ... and unfortunately God's presence in the film felt cosmetic to me, rather than heavy and urgent. All-in-all, I think this one is ready for a smarter version with a slightly bigger budget.

Weird thing about that music - it reminds me a lot of the theme from Moon; there are a lot of interesting parallels that I lack the vocabulary to describe accurately. Here's the first 10 minutes of Desperation (the music is in the first minute thirty):

(There's no embed for this, unfortunately.) Now, here's the trailer for Moon - and beware! Spoilers. If you haven't seen Moon yet, I wouldn't watch this.

District 9 is great fun. Mostly an excellent film, with frequent moments of awesome and occasional bursts of greatness. Warning: Contains action, aliens, robots, racists and an extremely funny pig. My favourite thing about the film was the inexorable escalation of violence between the different factions as the movie pushed its way towards the end - there was a great moment where I realised, "But if they do that, then the Nigerians would have to do this, and that would mean the MNU would have to respond like this ... oh shit!" Cue an extremely satisfying finale to an impressive film.

Coraline was remarkably more subdued than I expected. For most of the movie I didn't quite feel a sense of excitement about the magical other world that Coraline was exploring - possibly because, for me, her real world seemed just as interesting, and possibly because the script didn't build up the sense of wonder and awe for me. However, once the battle of wills really started between Coraline and her Other Mother, I was seriously into it - the talking cat, the small world, vampire dogs ... it all worked for me. But the end result was a smaller, more intimate film than I was expecting. And the 3D was definitely not essential to the experience.

After three viewings, The Godfather finally worked for me. Perhaps I needed a break of a decade, and to watch The Sopranos and The Wire, but now I can see exactly how influential it is and more importantly how simple and clear the story is: after two introductory sequences (meeting the family at the wedding, seeing how the Corleones operate in Hollywood) the story deals with the implications of a single decision to say no to a man with powerful backers. I cannot wait to watch Part II.

Jenni and Lee arranged a screening of Hopeless. I had a blast watching it for the first time in about three years - I'm now pretty confident about the audience response to the film - the slow build, the scattershot laughs and then the second half of the film jelling more and more. It's funny looking back on it; Hopeless is about young, insecure characters who don't really know how to talk to each other or be in relationships. The film is similarly a little insecure - dashing around the place and aiming to amuse. Which it does ... but watching it, I can't help feeling that we should have gone for the dramatic throat a bit more: that it's not Richard who Phil makes his confession about but rather the guy standing next to him; that Ben actually declares that he loves Maryann (rather than that he loves her as a friend). And it's only in retrospect that I can see the movie seriously pulses with suggestions of bisexuality and polyamorous relationships - that would've been some seriously awesome stuff to explore.

I watched the last hour of Southland Tales, and then the next day watched the whole thing. I'd actually kind of recommend this - knowing where the movie's going eased me into putting up with how it gets there. It kind of feels like Strange Days as directed by Terry Gilliam and written by someone from the 1980s influenced by Repo Man and Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. The film sprawls and the script doesn't really make it easy to let the audience in on what's going on, instead preferring to consistently make an odder choice than you'd expect. But the use of the screenplay inside the film to represent fate, and the ultimate destinies of the characters ... well, I found they moved me on my one and half-th viewing.

Stardust is like a darker, more epic version of the Princess Bride. Slightly less witty, more episodic and possessing more protagonists to keep track of. I recommend it though - it was a good reminder for me of how powerful fantasy can be in delivering an emotional kick.


Mashugenah said...

I found the book an awful lot better than the movies. Not too shocking I guess.

margo said...

Bruno was like watching a car crash - you can't turn away but the scene makes you go "yeesh". tho, i have to say, it seems the main motivation of the movie is a love story, i felt the movie went on too long.

Stardust is one of my very favorite films. love, romance, chivalry, and a kid coming of age. the hero learns to toughen up and be a man.

hix said...

@Mash: You're talking about The Godfather, yeah? From my hazy memory of the book, I agree with you - I suspect that Puzo and Coppola distilled the book down to a few inter-related strands that make for a clear 'movie' story (much like the adaptation of LA Confidential).

I'm looking forward to re-reading that.

hix said...

@Margo: Your reactions to Bruno were pretty hilarious to be sitting beside. I think the movie loses its way a little in the second half, in that a few of the scenes (training with the National Guard, for instance) don't add to either the emotional or the character journey, and they seem a little totally fake and arbitrary.

To me, that's where Bruno feels padded: jokes that feel like people are in on them, or that they couldn't POSSIBLY have really happened.

Amanda said...

Grizzly Man- really enjoyed that. Or maybe enjoyed is not the right word but it was a great film. Just wrote about it, actually

matt said...

There is some really, really good stuff in Borat. The scripted story that bookends the Borat-meets-real-Americans is pretty patchy (great fight scene, pretty offensive but funny intro, slow silly Pamela Anderson sidetrack) but the meat of it - SBC being hilariously offensive at unsuspecting members of the public who, presumably, signed their paperwork before filming started - is genius.

The deleted scenes on the DVD contain some worthwhile silliness too.

Jenni said...

I'm glad you enjoyed Totoro, it's one of my favourites :)