Sunday, February 18, 2007

Some Random movie thoughts

So I spent my days off trying to catch up on movies in hopes of being able to make an informed post about this years crop of Oscar nominees. I watched 6 movies in the last week that are nominated for various awards and thought I should give a quick opinion on them. Look for an in depth Oscar preview here sometime later in the week (I have another 5 or 6 movies I want to see first).

The Queen - The movie tells the story of the behind the scenes fighting between the royals and the newly elected Tony Blair over how to mark the death of Princess Diana. If ever they need a stand-in for Queen Elizabeth II, Dame Helen Mirren should get the job no questions asked. Very early in the movie you forget that you are watching an actor and not the real queen, an that's no small feat when you are dealing with a still living monarch that people are familiar with. My only quibble was with the casting of Alex Jennings as Prince Charles. He looks nothing like Prince Charles and that kept pulling me back into reality while watching the movie. Although I suppose I should be more annoyed with the make-up artist than the actor, as he does do a good job of getting the prince's mannerisms down.

Babel - This years Oscar darling from the mold of films like Traffic or Syriana, tells 4 loosely connected stories taking place at the same time on 3 different continents. The strength of this movie isn't in the story, which isn't all that original or compelling, but in the ability of the cast to make you believe that their stories are interesting and compelling. Oscar nominated Rinko Kikuchi does an amazing job in a role where she never says a word and even Brad Pitt manages to convince the audience that he is a concerned for the well being of his wife (Cate Blanchett) who has been shot while on vacation in Morocco.

The Last King of Scotland - The story of Idi Amin's rise to power in Uganda in the 1970's as seen through the eyes of his personal physician. What can be said about Forrest Whitaker's portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin that hasn't been said in every other magazine, newspaper and blog or at every award show this year where he has taken home an impressive pile of hardware? Amazing, just amazing.

El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth) - This year's quirky dark fantasy movie interweaves a fairy tale story amidst the back drop of fascist Spain in the 1940's. The special effects and make-up are amazing, but I can't shake the feeling that Guillermo del Toro decided to do this movie entirely in Spanish to make it seem a little more artsy than it is. If this movie was in English, it would not be up for nearly as many awards as it is. Don't get me wrong, I did quite enjoy it, I just didn't think it lived up to the hype. (Gwenhwyfer is going to flame the hell out of me)

United 93 - Paul Greengrass's docudrama about the terrorist attacks on September 11th should have been called Air Traffic Control 9/11 as most of the action takes place in various ATC towers along the eastern seaboard that day. Combining actors with a lot of the actual people who were there that day playing themselves one assumes it tells as accurate a story as possible (except for the scenes on the plane itself, which we'll never know if they are accurate or not). The last 15 minutes of the movie are as intense ans any 15 minutes in movie history.

Little Children - The story centers on Sarah and Brad, who bond and start to have an affair after meeting at the park where they both take their children, and the other people who inhabit their upper middle class suburb. Former child star Jackie Earle Haley is great as Ronnie McGorvey a recently paroled pedophile who has moved in to his mother's house. I'm having trouble describing the movie as it is structured differently than most American movies, but it was probably my favourite out of this group. It reminded me of American Beauty.

Check back later in the week for my Oscar predictions.


Gwenhwyfar said...

Gwenhwyfer is going to flame the hell out of me
Jesus, you're a quick one.

Did you stop to consider that perhaps Guillermo del Toro decided to do Labyrinth in Spanish because he speaks Spanish, most of the movies he directs are in his native tongue, the story is Spanish, and most importantly - it's set in Spain?
It would have annoyed the fuck out of me if it had been in english. Hollywood seems to have this idea that everyone in the world speaks perfect english and they like to do so, even in their own countries. So it was refreshing to see a movie beening so praised despite them not bowing down to the english gods.
I don't think it had one fucking thing to do with him wanting to be "artsy". I think it did have everything to do with the fact that he feels more comfortable working in his own language and more power to him for doing it.
You want language used purely as an artistic additive, watch Passion or Apocalypto. Mel Gibson didn't have to film those films in Maya or Aramaic or Latin - dead languges that are so in-your-face, aren't-I-fucking-smart, look-how-far-above-you-it-is-now, it makes me want to puke.
Despite all that, whether Labyrinth is in Spanish, English or fucking Swahili it's still an amazing movie. The critical acclaim it's getting is proof that a good movie is a language of it's own. Maybe people will start taking more serious note of the excellent films produced around the world.

Jason Doan said...

You are, of course, full of shite. You wouldn't have given a fuck what language the movie was in because you are a huge mark for anything Guillermo del Toro.

He's a genius with photographic memory who has written multiple english language films, he's perfectly comfortable writing in that language.

People can argue all they want that film making is some big artistic endeavour but at the end of the day it isn't. It's big business and if you want to keep working in a business you need to make money for the people that are paying the bills.

Here's some numbers for Pan's Labyrinth (all figures converted to US dollars):

Budget: $17,783,369.88
Spanish world box office: $14,270,742.28 (10 weeks of release)
English World Box office: $25,404,881.60 (6 weeks of release)

It's no secret that the english speaking world buys a disproportionate amount of the movie tickets sold world wide, so why not exploit that and make your movie in English? Is Shindler's list any less powerful because it's in English? Do you think that Spielberg couldn't make a movie in a language other than English?

You're walking all over your own argument with the Mel Gibson comparison, you seem to think all movies should use a language appropriate to their setting, so what's the diffence if the appropriate language is Spanish or Aramaic? It might as well be martian to the vast majority of your audience.

The critical acclaim it's getting is entirely do to the practical and computer efects artists who crafted a movie that does in fact look absolutely fantastic, and nothing to do with whether it was filmed in english, spanish or aramaic.

Maybe people will start taking more serious note of the excellent films being produced around the world if they are in a language accesible by more than 5% of their possible audience.

Gwenhwyfar said...

You are, of course, full of shite
That would probably hurt more if it weren't completely true and had come from someone who isn't as full of shit as I am.

To say that I'm a "mark" for anything Del Toro is just silliness. I love Hellboy, but beyond that I haven't a word to say about his other films and I certainly didn't rush out and buy them all to set up next to my Guillermo shrine. (If we were talking Tim Burton, it'd be a different story.)

I'm not arguing that he is brilliant and works just as well in english as anyone. But are you honestly going to tell me that anyone who learns english as a second (third, fourth, fifth... whatever) language isn't still more comfortable in their first?

Do I think Schindler's List would have been better in German? Maybe. Do I think it would have done any better, acclaim wise? Probably not. And it's not that I don't think Spielberg could have handled it, but he would have a harder time with it.

I don't believe I said that every film should have setting appropriate language. What I was saying was that films made in Spanish speaking countries by Spanish speaking directors with Spanish speaking actors telling a Spanish story should be in Spanish.

And you're absolutely right, the acclaim Labyrith is getting has nothing to do with the language, much like "la vita รจ bella" a few years ago (I'm sure Roberto Benigni was just trying to be artsy). And it has nothing to do with the story, the actors or anything but the effects. Judging by LOTR's oscar noms that's all it really takes to make a good movie.

Maybe people will start taking more serious note of the excellent films being produced around the world if they stop acting so ignorant and realize that the non-english speaking world doesn't need to bow before the english altar and pray to the gods to make them American. They have to put up with dubbing and subtitles with the movies we ship to them, why shouldn't we do the same? (Or is reading subtitles so beyond you?)

Jason Doan said...

I don't believe I said anywhere that people are more comfortable writing in their 2nd 3rd or 4th language, just that this one writer in particular is perfectly comfortable doing so.

Roberto Benigni, doesn't speak English, so that's another comparison that doesn't hold any water.

Nowhere did I ever say I dislike subtitles, I love Kurasawa and last I checked he never made an English movie. I just dislike subtitling for the sake of subtitling.

And what's the matter with dubbing? There are some amazing voice actors out there today practically begging for work.

Nowhere did I say that Pan's Labyrinth wasn't a good movie (check later in the week to see how many awards I expect it to rack up) just that it isn't the greatest fantasy movie of all time, like a lot of internet "critics" make it out to be.

Gwenhwyfar said...

am I pissing you off yet?

Jason Doan said...

Not at all, why would you be? You're entitled to your opinion.

Jason Doan said...

Oh, and answer my damn question on your Pan't Labyrinth review post already, damn it.

Gwenhwyfar said...

You posted on there... I hadn't even noticed.