Monday, March 20, 2006

Reviews - Luzhin Defence, Domino, Yesterday, McBoing, Walk the Line, G'nite & G'Luck, Irreversible

Finally some movies! Full week of movies. I watched The Luzhin Defence, Domino, Yesterday, Gerald McBoing Boing, Walk the Line, and Good Night and Good Luck. And I still haven't written that review for Irreversible, so I thought I would just throw a short review for that in here.

The Luzhin Defence (Gorris, 2000)
John Turturro is an absent-minded chess genius who is torn between a life with his lady love, and his obsession with the game.
I was so fidgety throughout this one. This was largely to do with the plot gaps and lack of character development in the first act, that made it impossible to understand or care about the main character's nature and woes. Without any sympathies developed, the following story was just plain boring. There were some moments of humor when he hastily (and clumsily) courts a woman. And there is a cool sequence showing how he visualizes coming chess moves in a match. But there just isn't enough to make this flick worth watching.

Domino (Scott, 2005)
A semi-biographical piece about Domino Harvey, a real-life model-turned-bounty-hunter.
Domino is in the vein of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind in its irreverence for literal biography, and akin to Natural Born Killers for its experimental flair and fetishism of violence (though believe me, it's not as awful as Natural Born Killers in its delivery.) There are lots of interesting things going on visually: hand-cranked camera work, experiments with film stock and alternative processing techniques. On the other hand, there are also lots of fetishistic shots of Kiera Knightly (who plays the title character) looking hot and tough. To be fair, she is not a victim of fetishism. Domino could hardly ever be called a victim, plus her gaze is just as controlling and objectifying as anyone's. (In one scene, she directs the audience with her gaze to look at her sexy partner in crime, Choco, as he undresses at a laundromat.)

As interesting as the film looked, the characters were so unreal, so caricature-like, I never cared what happened to them. So I spent a lot of time thinking about the ideological implications of this film: is it good or bad for feminism? Would I show it to my kids if I had any? Hard to say. This is just as unreal, idealized, and fetishized of a depiction of woman as anything, but she's fun, sassy, and doesn't take s**t from anyone. Is she any better or worse than the supposedly good (and treacly) role model put forth in Legally Blonde? I don't think so. Though I would rather my future daughters be more Domino than Elle Woods. (But that's because I have just never been the goody, sorority, chearleading, bubble gum girl type.) Then again, I hope my kids will be real women, and not conform to any patriarchal ideals whatsoever. Best show them something like Whale Rider instead.

Yesterday (Roodt, 2004)
The first ever Zulu-language film to be made, this Oscar-nominated piece features a South-African village woman named Yesterday, whose tough life is made even tougher by the news that she is HIV positive.
Coming from a colonized culture, and having studied other colonized cultures, I feel a sensitivity toward the Zulu culture in this film and their triumph for having a film made in their own language. Sad, however, is the fact that it had to be made by an outsider (a decendant of the colonizers), and even sadder that this first cinematic expression of their cultural identity features the HIV problem in Africa. How wonderful it would have been for their own stories to have been told in their own voices, and without the travesty of AIDS overshadowing everything.

This film is rich in vision, but falls short of brilliance. It rides the delicate line between showing sensitivity toward a culture and fetishizing it. It's characterization of Yesterday, and her fellow villagers, smacks a bit of the 'noble savage' found so often in literature and film. Still, it's definitely worth a look.

Gerald McBoing Boing (Cannon, 1950)
A stylistic, animated short, co-written by Dr. Seuss, featuring a little boy who speaks in sound effects instead of words.
Those who have been reading my blog know that I was really excited to watch this one because of its reputed style. It lived up to my expectations in that department. The artwork was truly fantastic. Filled with some of the typical stylized, swirly line-work of its time, this animation went even beyond its contemporaries in its compositions and creative use of color planes. (The little image above just doesn't do it justice). The story itself, and the familiar Seuss rhymes are equally charming. Included on the DVD I viewed were three other classic episodes. One without the rhymes, which lacked a lot of the original charm. The other two were decent, especially Gerald McBoing Boing's Symphony, but none have the spark of the original. Definitely a must have for any classic cartoon collection. Modern day animations have nothing on the art of this little toon.

Walk The Line (Mangold, 2005)
A biopic about Johnny Cash, his life, his loves, his losses, and his drug abuse.
Jon Stewart wasn't entirely inaccurate when he joked at this year's Oscar ceremony that Walk the Line was a remake of Ray with white people. It wasn't really, of course. But there was definitely a feeling while watching it of been here, seen this. But that's not because it resembled Ray so much as it offers little more than the typical, sub-par rock star/drug movie ever does. The similarites with Ray are fairly apparant: a childhood tragic loss of a brother, a rise to fame due to unusual talent, a near loss of everything due to drug use, etc.. But, though Ray was by no means my favorite movie, it had some special things going for it that Walk the Line simply didn't. Most importantly, it was far more emotional. The loss of Ray Charles's brother was truly tragic and we felt it; his love of his wife was tremendous, and we felt it; his love of music was perhaps even greater, and we felt that too. I felt about as emotional while watching Walk the Line as I would reading a Wikipedia entry about the singer.

Also, I wonder if the director, is a fan at all of Cash's music, because as a musical, this movie stinks. As someone who already enjoys the odd Cash song, I half expected to be compelled to buy an entire collection of the man's music after watching the movie as I had been after watching Ray. But I felt no such need. The musical performances during the movie just didn't pop. And what, oh what is the fuss over Reese's performance about? She did fine, certainly. But I wasn't wowed by a long stretch.

Good Night and Good Luck (Clooney, 2005)
Clooney's sophomore directorial effort about the TV man (Edward R. Murrow) who endangered his own job by drawing attention to the absurdity of McCarthy's communism witch hunts in the 1950s.
This movie made me angry. It succeeds visually. It has some sexy, high-contrast, black & white shots of men smoking. But as a means of educating the current generation on this scary time in US history (and perhaps getting them to think about current parallels), it fails miserably. The story is static and confusing. It is comprised mostly of talking heads, newsreel footage, and several speeches lifted entirely from recordings and broadcasts of Murrow. Little else happens. Unless you already know what happened in real life, you aren't likely to get much out of the action or plot here, or (without that context) glean much at all from the convoluted (though profound) speeches. In fact, in the DVD special features, director Clooney laughed at the audiences who had never heard of McCarthy, and left asking what actor "played" him (even though his footage was all taken from actual, historical, news footage) and therefore had apparently totally missed the reality (and gravity) of the story they had just seen.

By the way, does anyone know what the heck the deal was with the Robert Downey Jr character & wife? Were they communists? Did the whole job thing with them at the end happen because they were communists? And why were people still losing jobs & getting demoted after McCarthy had already started to fall? That was confusing and unexplained.

Ok, so I didn't have any connections with any of the characters I watched this week. I don't know if it was an off week for me, or for movies. Better luck next week hopefully though, huh? Anyway, on to Irreversible...

Irreversible (NoƩ, 2002)
A French film about a man gone mad after the rape and beating of his girlfriend.
This one was really interesting, but terribly brutal to watch. So brutal, in fact, that I don't think I could ever recommend it to anyone. Using reverse chronological storytelling (as in the brilliant Memento), the film begins (after a short intro) with the boyfriend and his companion finding and obliterating the rapist with (gosh it's been a while now, but I think it was a fire extinguisher or something else very heavy and blunt.) This initial scene will leave you spinning, just as the camera is spinning. The camera is constantly swerving around as the tension builds. Only the tension is building backwards, right, so it is actually decreasing, and as it decreases, so does the manic camera work, which gradually becomes very stable. But this beginning scene, ugh, the horror! You see the man's face fall apart way beyond death.

We then follow, in reverse, the path of these two buddies to their recent discovery of the rape and near killing of the woman they both love. After that discovery, we witness the event for ourselves. It is an intensely long and incredibly real rape scene. Many have applauded this film for not fetishizing the act itself as often happens in mainstream rape movies. No, it definitely does not fetishize or glamorize rape. But I felt raped too after watching that scene. Surely that is unnecessary.

And for a while, my internal jury was out on the deconstructed, and non-linear plotline. I only believe in using that kind of telling for a reason. Not for the sake of doing something different and cool, but for some bigger reason that makes the story better. And I really wasn't sure what, if anything, the structure did for this story. Then I read what Roger Ebert had to say. He is quite genius in his review of the film. He suggests that the film achieves some kind of brilliance in the reverse telling. This is because instead of bringing the movie into an almost sexual climax with the beating of the rapist and post-coital satisfaction of his death at the end (and climax) of the film, we begin with that action, and end at a happier time, when there was hope and promise of love and new life. This means that the chronological beginning of story, that occurs at the end of its achronological telling, is somehow inextricably linked with the rape and finally with the killing of the rapist. As if, tragically, it was inevitable. Oh and how very tragic it is when we see the girl (Monica Bellucci) so happy at the end, having no idea what her fate holds for her, while we have her fate firmly planted in our memories.

Yes. This movie achieves something very interesting, maybe something close to brilliance, but with the brutality of it being just so extreme, I can't recommend it.

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