Apocalypto

A lot of people are using this film as a tool to psychoanalyze Mel Gibson.  Of course, this is purely due to his anti-semitic drunken outbursts from a few months ago.  That’s the price one pays for being a celebrity, but the review readers are paying his penalty too because no-one can seem to write about the movie without making assumptions of deductions to do with Mel’s psyche.  I won’t be making any references in this review after this introductory paragraph.

I was underimpressed.  I was expecting a legendary tale full of drama from the man who made Braveheart.  What I got was a long chase scene with some set-up scenes before-hand and an postscript concerning collapsing civilizations.

The acting was fine, especially considering how little acting most of the participants had done before.  I thought the casting was spot on for a European audience.  The wives/girlfriends were beautiful in a western way and the men were physically perfect for their parts.  Jaguar Paw was a sympathetic-looking hero.  His big friend was big and loveable.  The two main bad guys were spot on in their bad guy physiques.

The direction was lacking.  There were so many camera shots that wouldn’t allow you to immerse yourself into the story – they ripped you out of it and reminded you that you were watching a movie.  This happened especially during the running scenes.  Someone like Terrence Malick would have made a more beautiful film too.  You’re filming in the jungle – make us feel it.

I’m at a loss to explain the hype over the violence.  It just didn’t seem any different to scores of films that come out every year.  It just didn’t exist.  Maybe it was part of the marketing plan.

So – I’m not sure I’d recommend the film.  It’s obviously a landmark in that it used a dead language, but Mel did that before.  If you like slasher movies and foreign language films, maybe you’ll enjoy this.

Casino Royale

This is not your father’s 007.  It isn’t even your older brother’s.  This is brand new Bond and you can feel it from the first scene.  There’s grainy black and white with sharp angles and a pre-00 Bond.

There was much confusion, controversy, and crying over Daniel Craig being hired as the new Bond.  He was too blonde, not suave enough, and not famous enough.  Pierce Brosnan had become iconic as Bond and no-one could see anyone else in the role.

This was almost unrecognizable as a Bond film and that was only good.  There were three screenwriters, so I don’t know who to congratulate on creating a Bond with emotions.  Having a person as the central character instead of a tuxedo makes a big difference.  James Bond actually falls in love, suffers from character flaws, and exposes his soul, so to speak.

Instead of worrying about Daniel Craig’s casting, I was concerned with Eva Green.  I wasn’t overly impressed with her in The Dreamers, so I wasn’t looking forward to this.  She didn’t win me over completely, but she did okay.  She was much better as the unguarded un-made-up version instead of the heavily made-up vamp version.

I loved the playfulness in the script.  The quick upgrade in car was hilarious and understated.  I was surprised at the Ford rental car at the start, but it was just the beginning.  Seeing Richard Branson getting a full security search for a split second was wonderful self-deprecating humour.  Bond asking Vesper if she was okay after he was revived was touching and funny.  The torture scene where Bond asked for a little to the left was ridiculously ballsy.  Driving in a circle to “get home” was priceless.

I loved the first chase scene – it was breath-taking in the literal sense.  The action was on the spot the whole way from there.

Ultimately this is the Bond you can take a friend to who doesn’t like Bond.  It is amazing – almost perfect.

The Devil’s Backbone

Guillermo del Toro has made an absolutely brilliant ghost story here. It follows the classic structure for a ghost story – not simply throwing a few buxom girls in with a masked man and a chainsaw. With Pan’s Labyrinth due out after Christmas, I figured I should check this one out first. What a thrill to see a movie that cares about story above marketability.

The story follows a young boy named Carlos as he is dropped off at a boy’s school in Spain towards the end of the Civil War. Carlos is soon made aware of a ghost in the school and becomes entangled in the ghost’s story, ultimately providing the ghost the relief he needs to die his final death.

Carlos is played by Fernando Tielve in a brilliantly natural way. It seems other countries have no problem finding kids who can act without coming across as precocious. America is full of precocious kid actors though. Tielve looks a lot like Benicio del Toro must have as a boy. The rest of the cast performs their roles with as much understatement as Tielve, adding up to a wonderfully easy to watch movie.

Del Toro brings his eye for style and colour to the film as well. The red heat of the Spanish country is contrasted with the dull colours in the basement which in turn highlight the pool. It’s really well done and will likely not even be noticed because of it. The ghost was a triumph of CGI. It looked completely natural – or unnatural, I suppose. It didn’t stick out as an obvious special effect, rather as just another character.

Ultimately this is a story. A real story that could have been told around a campfire. It is probably a movie that the masses will dislike as it unfolds slowly with little Hollywood action or sex. Watch it at night with the lights off and allow it to wash over you. You’ll find it well worth it.

You Stupid Man

I have to tell you I was a little worried when I saw that the lead in this romantic comedy was the dork from 10 Things I Hate About You. He didn’t exactly change my mind in the first half an hour, but I admit he didn’t do too badly at all.

This is the same old story; boy and girl are in love, girl cheats on boy and breaks up with him, boy meets new girl and falls in love, first girl comes back for boy, boy takes back old girl, boy realizes he’s a moron and goes back to the second girl. What makes this film stand a little above average is the cast. David Krumholz actually makes sense as a guy who would be so stupid as to run back to the Barbie-esque Denise Richards, and Milla Jovovich is brilliant as the girl who doesn’t push too hard.

I rented the movie because of my crush on Milla. I wasn’t disappointed. This kind of movie, like Dummy, makes me wonder why she doesn’t play in more of these types of films. It makes me wake in the middle of the night, wondering why she chose to be in Ultraviolet. Her control of her face during the emotional moments is unlike any other actress – she doesn’t copy what everyone else does, she just acts.

There were a number of scenes and moments that rang false during the film which stopped it being great, but there were some laugh out loud moments and some truly tender ones. The film is written and directed by Brian Burns, brother of Edward Burns who had a moment in the spotlight with Brothers McMullen and She’s The One. You can see some of the same style at work here.

If you’re after a date movie that doesn’t star the same old celebrities, this will do the job. You’ll get comfortable with the laughs and then get all mushy towards the end. Perfect.

Joyeux Noel

Joyeaux Noel (Happy Christmas) was released on DVD this week. I missed it when it was at cinemas because I live in the cultural darkland, but I’ve had it on my Netflix queue since it was available to be. It tells the story of a Christmas cease fire in World War 1. This is something that happened at a number of places along the fronts in that war, but this story covers a group of Germans, Frenchmen, and Scots.

What struck me first was the colour. Every colour, whether it was muted or bright, was rich. Added to this were the beautiful shots by the cameraman. I figured I was in for a visual feast. I was right, but that wasn’t the best thing about the film. Not by far.

The acting here is important and it is done well. The belief in the war was clear in the eyes of the men at the beginning of the war. As the peace began, they slowly started to show emotion – whether it be missing people at home, awkwardly making new friends, or crying at the thought of Christmas.

This is a film about humanity. It observes that humans fight in wars – on both sides. The demonization of opponents happens in every war. It is a tool to convince young men that they should give up their lives protecting their homeland against the inhuman enemy. When the curtain is pulled aside and the enemy turns out to be human too, how can you continue fighting? That truth is exactly what the superior officers fear when they learn of the fraternization. They send the men to other parts of the war so they can become killing machines again.

This should be a Christmas staple on TV for the rest of time. The emotions that are aroused during the initial events of the cease fire should remind everyone of the spirit of Christmas and the natural strength of humanity.

merryxmaas.jpg

Babel

God created many languages and cultures in response to the construction of the Tower of Babel. He did this so man would not be able to work together to reach heaven. One can imagine Alejandro González Iñárritu created the movie Babel from a direct order from God to continue the tradition of confusion.

There are four stories, maybe three depending on how you look at it. Two are definitely linked, while the other two are tenuously so. There is clearly a theme of misunderstanding, but is there a reason these stories were put together in one film. Is it a set of shorts? Should we be told that if it is? If it isn’t, I (and my companions) have missed the point.

There are a number of languages and cultures throughout – American, English, Moroccan, Mexican, Japanese. We even have sign language. Obviously there are communication difficulties there, but that is too black and white, I think. I think the secret to understanding the film comes in studying the other communication problems.

We have a married couple who have not talked properly since their infant child died. A crisis brings them closer together and allows them to admit their feelings. We have cultural assumptions creating reactions that complicate matters. The Americans assume a shooting is terrorist related, despite Morocco not being known for harbouring terrorists – they are a Muslim country. We also have these kind of assumptions causing an incident at a border crossing to escalate out of control. As the assumptions build on each other, a rash decision is made.

But are these thematic elements enough to make a compelling film? I don’t think so. A couple entering the theatre as I was leaving asked if it was good. I didn’t know what to say. They were looking for an easy answer – there wasn’t one to give. I said, “It will make you think” and that’s what I can tell you.

The Prestige

prestige.jpgI was expecting good things from this film, and like magic, I received. Christopher Nolan has produced another great movie giving us not quite what we expect. The Prestige is a film about magicians, but he sets it in a steam punk world. It’s about rivals who don’t try to kill each other, unless it’s on stage.

This is a movie to watch and discuss at length. Make sure you save time for a coffee afterwards. The performances were expectedly good. Christian Bale (Batman) and Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) give the comic fanboys something to get excited about as they battle each other throughout the film. Michael Caine is suitably (and predictably) restrained in his golden performance. Scarlett Johansson was window dressing more than anything. Mrs. Belmondo and I wondered why she chose such a part. Perhaps to act for Nolan. Anyone could have played her role and the film would have been no different.

There’s not much point talking about the plot any more than I have. The twists and turns are well worth the effort following them. Watching it a second time will reveal the skill in which Nolan uses his bag of tricks.

This is a highly recommended film – I’m off to see Borat tonight.