Monday, 22 October 2007

Stardust


Stardust, directed by Matthew Vaughn, is one of those average fantasy adventure films which could have been much better. In particular, the writing and editing needed to be tightened so that the film could flow instead of stutter. As it is, we are left with some very funny scenes [especially those involving Robert De Niro, who steals the film (as he did with Brazil)], some gorgeous cinematography, above average special effects, uneven acting, and an occasionally interesting adventure.

If that was all there was to say about this film, I could recommend it to those who enjoy this genre. Unfortunately, however, the film ventures into a very bizarre form of the myth of redemptive violence, which, at the least, needs to be challenged, if not condemned outright. The bizarre form to which I refer could possibly be described as humorous redemptive violence. In a violent black comedy, such humour can at least be understood, if not condoned. In a film aimed at children, treating murder as something to laugh at is positively inexcusable. One prince is pushed out of a window, another is made to drown, another is poisoned and the fourth has his throat cut. Most of these murders are treated in a lighthearted manner designed to elicit laughter, especially when the dead princes immediately become ghosts who make silly comments to each other and represent the primary running gag in the film. Perhaps the film is trying to satirize redemptive violence by treating it as a joke. If so, the film should not end in the way all such films typically end, namely with the horrific death of the “bad guy(s)”. In this case, we are treated to the horrific deaths of three bad guys (all women). The last death (using the power of good and beauty to destroy evil) was particularly gruesome and should never have been allowed in a PG film (actually, most of the violence in the film was inappropriate for a PG audience). Any chance of a favourable review from me was dashed by this callous use of violence. Very sad.

My mug is down for this gorgeous adventure film. **+

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Eastern Promises

The first thing that I'll say about Eastern Promises, since it seems to set itself up for such comparisons, was that it struck me as being much more solid and consistent than A History of Violence which did not impress me much. The latter movie had its moments, but when Mortensen's character went back to take care of business, it struck me as just plain silly.

When I read a review about what they're promoting as the instant-classic knife fight in the bath house in Promises, I feared it would happen again. But I had no real complaints here. Long fight scenes simply bore me regardless (wish I could fast forward), but people seem to like them for some reason. I guess I would have to add that I don't appreciate Cronenberg's emphasis on hitting you in the face with the graphic brutality, but I suppose a case could be made that it's better than white-washing the violence as if it's not messy at all.

The strength of the movie was the juxtaposition of the relatively innocent world of Anna (Watts) and the dark world of Nikolai (Mortensen), and the way that Anna courageously and with realistic struggles impacts that dark and powerful world. Both worlds come across well, though they both also appear pretty grim and lifeless. London does not come across looking like a very joyful place.

As this all happens, the sense of mystery and intrigue unfold well and keep you interested. In the end, the relative realism (not that I would have a clue about the accuracy of the Russian mob life) which is a strength also ensures that it's an hour and a half of living in a dark, dull, brutal world that is, understandably, just no fun to experience. So I'll give it a *** and a grudging mug up. Vic, there's little question that you'll like it more.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Flags of our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima


Many months too late, I finally watched Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima (on the same day). It was not worth the wait. Both films were disappointing to me, though not in the same way or to the same degree.

Clint Eastwood, who directed the fantastic Mystic River in 2003 and the very good Million Dollar Baby in 2004, directed, in 2006, these two depictions of the battle of Iwo Jima during the later stages of World War II. The idea of showing the war in two parts and from the point of view of the two opposing forces is a brilliant one and certainly worth celebrating. Unfortunately, he could have done so much more with these films.

Flags of our Fathers concerns the soldiers who were in the famous photograph of the planting of an American flag on Iwo Jima. It is a well-made war film, with strong acting and great cinematography. But that’s really all it is. Sure it’s realistic and it’s cynical about using the soldiers for a fund-raising drive and it’s honest in its depiction of racism. These are all good things. But at an academic conference in July on Peacemaking in Film, Flags of our Fathers was presented as an anti-war film. It is most definitely not an anti-war film. Like Saving Private Ryan, it celebrates the heroes who died in this most necessary of wars and is just rather schmaltzy Hollywood as it does so. The only problem is that this war (like every other war in history) was not remotely necessary – it’s just that we have been trained for millennia to think that wars are a legitimate way to respond to international crises when they are only a way to exacerbate all such crises.

Letters from Iwo Jima is a much better film than the first and comes much closer to being an anti-war film. Showing the war from the point of view of the “enemy” (and the losers) is a brave undertaking, and generates powerful results. It is rare indeed for filmmakers to try to show what it might have been like on the other side, and to show the Japanese in WWII as humans. For this attempt at humanization, and for the way the two films together show both the bravery and compassion as well as the brutality and coldness of the soldiers involved, I applaud Eastwood. And, again, the acting and cinematography are outstanding in Letters from Iwo Jima. But there is still a lot of Hollywood schmaltziness as well as a huge hole where something more was needed; perhaps more of the context of this battle that would bring into question why all these lives were lost. Most disturbing, however, was the way the film depicted two Japanese soldiers who had lived in the U.S. before the war. These two men were shown to be far more compassionate than their fellows, as if to say that all the Japanese would have needed to be decent people was enough American influence. Tsk-tsk.

Good effort, Mr. Eastwood, but still flawed. *** for Flags; ***+ for Letters.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Michael Clayton


This film from Tony Gilroy, starring George Clooney, is everything that The Bourne Ultimatum (also written by Tony Gilroy!) was not, namely an intelligent complex thriller with great dialogue and real drama. In other words, it's my kind of thriller, and the fact that I'm a George Clooney fan doesn't hurt, especially when his acting in this film is oscar-worthy.


I'm not going to say any more, because I don't want to spoil it by giving away even a glimpse of the well-scripted story. It's simply great entertainment you will not want to miss. If only there were more thrillers like this out there instead of all that "action"!


This one gets **** - the aroma in my mug is saying this is going to be in my top ten for 2007.