Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Mini Reviews - Dark City, Frankenstein, Yes Men, Nine Lives, Half Light, Constant Gardener

Another set of mini reviews coming at ya! This week: Dark City, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, The Yes Men, Nine Lives, Half Light, and The Constant Gardener. Phew! Better get right to it!

Dark City (Proyas, 1998)
A man wakes to find he is a murder suspect in a Metropolis-meets-Film Noir-ish environment. Trouble is, he can't remember whether he did it or even who he is.
Proyas creates a fantastical, but fully realized world that masterfully blends the realms of sci-fi with a
heavily industrialized, dystopic real world. The shots may seem disconnected and the editing frenetic, but there is serious design behind all choices in this film. And speaking of design, the art direction of this film is unbelieveable. The story itself is the kind of thing that makes you question everything you accept to be true and real. This is what The Matrix and What the Bleep aspire to be.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (Full-screen version, Branagh, 1994)
A melodrama featuring a scientist brought to obsession by the loss of loved ones. He must, and does, find a way to cheat death. But at what cost?
This is a fun film. It has some lovely, gothic, even bordering on expressionist imagry. But it is definitely quite a bit over the top. I also generally don't ever watch full-screen versions of anything, but it seems as if Mr. Branagh only wants to make FS DVDs available to us. The film doesn't suffer too much from horrible pan-n-scan, but it still misses the effect of the full image.

The Yes Men (Ollman, 2003)
A doc featuring two guys who impersonate WTO representatives and speak on their behalf to undermine the organization and to bring their 'true' objectives to light.
This may be one of the only times I can recommend watching a terrible film. The content is interesting from a political standpoint, but the film is poorly constructed and manipulative (crowd reaction shots seemed to be reused and reshuffled). Basically it offers only a look into a couple of the pranks they've pulled, but doesn't really give you much else. Still, I enjoyed watching those pranks.

Nine Lives (García, 2005)
Short snippets of various women's lives offer us insight into various points of the human existence.
It's basically 9 short films strung together with no real cohesive element. Despite that, and despite the fact that some of these pieces aren't as strong as others, the film is quite lovely and definitely interesting. As a fly on the wall we are able to glimpse random, though potentially crucial, moments in various women's lives, and to see how some of these lives interweave to form the fabric of a larger community. The problem though is, because there is no overall structure, one has the feeling while watching it all of being lost in a random stream of consciousness, not really know when or where the stream will end.

Half Light (Rosenburg, 2006)
Demi Moore is a famous novelist caught in a supernatural murder mystery in a remote Scottish village.
Crap. Some nice scenery. Fun to see Sally from Coupling in something else. Fun to hear lots of thick Scottish accents. Otherwise a waste of time. Just not compelling or involving in any real way. Ghostly murder mysteries seems to be a theme Demi is looking to reprise. She should have just left it with Ghost.

The Constant Gardener
(Meirelles, 2005)
Ralph Fiennes is a British diplomat in Africa who is desperate to uncover the truth of his wife's recent death.
Disappointing. Not terrible, but disappointing. There are two main problems with this film: though the gist is clear, there are too many names of people and companies floating around to follow the specifics of what is going on; and the audience feels no emotional involvement with the characters and therefore has little vested interest in the outcome of their story. I think the latter issue may be due in part to the fact that the wife is killed at the beginning of the film, allowing the audience to detach from her and her husband's story right away. Perhaps allowing us to fall in love with them as we watch them fall in love before her death (rather than in flashback afterwards) would have been more effective. Also, the film gives clues to the insincerity of their love throughout, only to tell us after all is said and done that the love was true. But letting us think that the love was insincere in the beginning allows us to be disinterested in the progression of their relationship, which seems secondary to both of them anyway to all the politics. Plus, I didn't really feel the the "constant gardening" informed the story or the character in any way. It would have been nice to have had more references to horticulture á la Adaptation. Bummer. I thought this one was going to be good.

Still working on my Irreversible review. Will get that to you all soon.

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