Friday, July 07, 2006

Reviews - Da Vinci, Memoirs, Zhivago, Wal-Mart, Illuminated

So, back in the saddle again, and over a month behind. So let's catch up! Here is the first batch: Da Vinci Code, Memoirs of a Geisha, Dr. Zhivago, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, and Everything is Illuminated.

Da Vinci Code (Howard, 2006)
On the run as possible murder suspects, Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou solve riddles leading to the answer of a great mystery involving 'the great lie' told by the Christian church.
I'll admit it. I was hooked on the book. I don't think it was particularly well written, but still it completely hooked me. My husband and I listened to the audio version all the way from Denver to Austin (and then some) last summer. We were so into the plot, we couldn't wait to get back to the road at the end of each pit stop so we could pick up where we'd left off in the book. The book certainly has its flaws, but it's also a very compelling read/listen. So we eagerly awaited the release of the movie version this year. We could hardly stand to wait until May, and when we realized that we'd have to wait until June (because of my Old Movie Diet for May) we were beside ourselves. It's never good to walk into a movie with that kind of anticipation. It almost never measures up. And it didn't. For me the biggest flaw is the same flaw that the Harry Potter movies suffer from: over-dependence on source material. If you concern yourself with trying to get all the details of a book right in a movie adaptation, you will miss the essence of the book's heart. After all, a book has hundreds of pages, and a movie has (typically) less that two hours. The movie will inevitably be bogged down with details and facts, and rely on clunky methods of story-telling to keep everything moving. The worst part about The Da Vinci Code was that it took so much time out to explain things to the audience. And for me, this exposition was so overt that it felt almost patronizing. We're now going to give you some information and barely even pretend to disguise it as part of the story. In a book, exposition is common. You can spend a hundred pages just on these explanations if you wish (although I generally hate it when it's done this way); you have the space. Cinema is a visual medium, and overt explanations (versus demonstrating through action/plot/story development) is considered extremely lazy filmmaking. There are a couple times when they make an effort to really disguise this exposition as a debate between scholars. But that's when I find it most patronizing. Come on man! I can tell what you're doing here. Do you think I am stupid enough to believe this argument is really something that would happen? I also hated the obvious change in the depiction of the Opus Dei characters so as to reduce the story's inflammatory portrayal of the group. Overall, there was so much concern with detail that there just wasn't time to provide enough excitement to sustain such a lengthy movie. Definitely read the book instead.

Memoirs of a Geisha (Marshall, 2005)
An adaptation of the popular novel that chronicles the difficult life of a legendary geisha.
I was never all that interested in this book. I am generally not into sob stories for the sake of sobbing, and on top of that, I would have to read about the idealization and maltreatment of women. Why would I want to spend my time that way? I wasn't interested in the movie either until I found out that it was directed by Rob Marshall. Being a huge fan of his first movie, Chicago, I became eager to see how he would present this tale. I imagined that some of the exquisite drama of his images would be found here. I thought he would instruct the actors like dancers to move in rich gestures. However, I found that this movie was a little more ordinary than Chicago was. On top of that, I had to sit through something that just isn't my kind of story. Furthermore, I found this movie problematic from a feminist perspective. Sure, you can make feminist film about the struggle of an oppressed woman. But when the camera starts to objectify her also, this is a problem. Marshall's camera delighted in fetishizing her, in making her the object of our gaze. If he wanted to, he could have shown her going through the same actions, same emotions, without fetishizing her for us. He could learn from Mira Nair, whose Monsoon Wedding showed a young woman flirting with a young man, her facing us, his back to us, and our view of her slightly obstructed. This means that we are permitted to see the action without partaking in the objectification of this girl. It can be done!

Doctor Zhivago (Lean 1965)
Love and adultery amidst the Russian Revolution.
This is one of those old epics with such notoriety that people look at you funny when you claim to be some kind of movie expert and yet you haven't seen it. This is also the reason that so many women fell in love with Omar Sharif in the 60s. Sure, he had already been the dashing arab in Peter O'Toole's shadow in Lawrence of Arabia, but Doctor Zhivago made him a household name. But here is yet another example of how old movies are so forgiven for their flaws, because Doctor Zhivago certainly has many. I couldn't ever connect with these characters. The woman is a slut, and the man loves his wife completely. And when they become infatuated with one another, I just can't care. Zhivago! Why are you messing around with this floozy when you have a wife you adore? And why do I care when that "love" goes south? Another reason I couldn't connect is that the score was so unbelievably overwhelming that I almost felt the movie was spoofing itself. Never has one musical theme ("Lara's Theme") -- beautiful though it may be -- been so overly exploited. It seemed like it was used in every scene of the three-hour movie! It was fun to see a pre-Star Wars Alec Guinness though, but not fun enough to make sitting through the rest of movie worth it. Sorry. I just don't get this one.

Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price (Greenwald, 2005)
A documentary looking at the negative impact Walmart has on employees, communities, and our country.
Ok, this movie was absolutely terribly made. Well-researched, but horribly made. Still, I can't help but recommend that people see it for its sociopolitical importance. Yes, the argument is one-sided, but that doesn't negate everything this film has to say. You want to know what's happening to the world? Capitalism, globalism, and lots of other nasty isms. And Walmart is one of the ones at the front leading us into it all. You don't care about that? How about the fact that the reason that Walmart is so cheap is because we pay for it to be with our taxes. Don't think so? How about the overwhelming number of employees it has on welfare. How about how our local governments help pay for Walmarts to come. Guess what, you give the little Mom & Pops a big chuck of money to bring their store into town and they can offer cheaper goods too! Poor factory conditions is no news to us by now, but that's also not something to become complacent about. Check out this movie! And stop shopping at Walmart (and other chains!)

Everything is Illuminated (Schreiber, 2005)
An odd young man, obsessed with collecting the little items of everyday life, goes to the Ukraine in search of his grandfather's past.
I really enjoyed this movie. It was odd, quirky, funny, sad, moving, you name it. Kudos to first-time writer/director Liev Schreiber (who has acted in such movies as Scream) for pulling off something that is really, truly quite unique. Of course, he didn't go it alone. He had a unique book to work from by Jonathan Safran Foer (who is also the main character in the story). But the movie is still something in its own right. And I love the fact that he could incorporate the humor in language barriers without becoming offensive or insensitive.

Back to the full blog...

No comments:


blogger templates 3 columns | Tech Blog