Aug 17, 2009

Movie Reviews @ The Temple

Baraka – Wow.  Beautiful movie.  It’s kind of a video photo journal.  It is completely without a single english word.  Just sights and sounds from around the world, and music.  It is extraordinarily beautiful and powerful, both the nature and the people.  Critiques: The first is only half a critique, that this movie is largely without context.  You see places and people and you have no idea where, who, or why.  You know only what you bring to it – i.e. I understand that dudes reading Hebrew in front of a wall are jews at the wailing wall.  I do not, however, know what is going on with a bunch of tribesman performing a ritual, or a burka’d woman kissing a large silver lock.  I recognize the pyramids, I do not recognize the Arches National park.  But, from an artistic standpoint, it is the filmmaker’s intention that you specifically look at the what and NOT the who, where, or why.  His intention, and I find it to be a pure one, is that you simply watch these amazing scenes for what they are, not for what they represent.  Nonetheless, for naturally curious people, you can’t help but wonder what is going on.  Secondly,  any moving that involves filming ritual or people calls into question what is real and what is set up.  Obviously a person staring into the camera is set up, I must assume that their dress, make-up, and surroundings are real.  I hope that when I see a ritual it is how it really happens, not something extraordinary that is staged for the film.  This all involves a bit of trust that I have no reason to deny the filmmaker, but you can’t help but wonder these days.  But really, this movie is amazing.  I’ve never seen most of these things, and there were sights that just blew me away.  It’s reinvigorated my desire to finally travel which has strangely waned in recent years.  It has some sadness to it, too, situated right in the middle.  It starts with a comment environmentally motivated scenes.  It moves to some disturbing factory farming things (no death, just sad conditions).  Then it hits you with some heart wrenching poverty.  And ending with a concentration camp and (I read later) a camp in cambodia.  Then its back to rituals and beauty.  He has a lot of cool filming techniques, he uses tilt-shift, lots of time-lapse, cool tricks of perspective and distance, it’s all fantastically well done.  I really wish I had seen it in blu-ray (stupid netflix surcharge), maybe I will someday.  It’s a pretty amazing movie.

Reclaiming the Blade – So this is a documentary about the history of the sword.  It’s clearly an independent low budget sort of thing.  The CG is pretty lame, the over all structure is a little meandering.  But it’s not bad, it’s pretty cool.  They managed to get John Rhys Davies (gimli) to narrate, and interviews with uhh… you know, aragorn, him and the prince of the horse people in LOTR.  So that was pretty cool.  It goes over the history in cinema, the history of western and eastern martial arts, it’s all pretty neat.  It didn’t blow me away or anything, it was sort of the quality of a museum video, but it was neat.

The Last Emperor – I wanted to like this movie more than I did.  Not that I disliked it at all.  It’s about the last emperor of china before the people’s republic takes over.  I’ve always been a fan of ancient  chinese history, and very much bored (not to mention politically opposed, obviously) to recent chinese history, and this is exactly where that transition took place.  It’s very interesting, what it was like for him trapped in the forbidden city (the extent of his “empire” at that point), and then seeing his life afterward.  It’s an epic kind of movie, but not epic in a historical way, just the life of this man.  It’s a good movie, it’s still very grand and has great costumes and set pieces, it just didn’t light a fire for me.

Waltz with Bashir – This is a pretty amazing movie.  I’m not really saying anything new, as it was nominated for an oscar and won a golden globe (both for foreign).  The idea is an Israeli man (it’s a documentary, the main character is the film maker) who was in the 1982 Lebanon War, he hears a related nightmare from a war friend, and realizes he doesn’t remember the massacre at Sabra and Shatila which is a famous event that I had never heard of because I suck.  So he embarks to find his memories by talking to other people in the war.  So then there’s the interesting art style.  The movie is animated, it’s drawn in a way that looks like rotoscoping, but it’s not.  It is based on real people (interviews, and reenactments of war-time events). but I guess it’s based on flash animations of certain elements and traditional animation.  I find this out after, and it’s funny because I knew it looked like a video game.  In fact it looks very much like a cell shaded video game.  Moreover the backgrounds tend to be static with simple motion, like a kid walking back and forth, or a tree moving up and down.  It all seemed so familiar and now I realized it’s like a flash video.  This is, sadly, a bit of a negative for me.  It makes it such that the animation is not at all unique.  It is unique for a movie, sure, I’ve never seen a movie made like this.  But I have definitely seen the style before, it doesn’t blow me away like it might someone who isn’t as familiar with games.  I’ve also heard it described as graphic novel like, which is cool, and represents memory (with its focus on imagery) very well.  But it really felt more flash than comic to me, which is sad.  If the movie was just that I’d probably be disappointed.  But the story is pretty amazing, because I don’t know about this massacre (it’s kind of the art style in reverse, it’s amazing because of my lack of knowledge).  But it is also done extremely well.  The dream that sets him off on his quest is beautiful and haunting, it’s extremely dramatic and powerful.  Very very interestingly, the movie keeps you in animation almost the whole time.  Animation shields you from reality, it’s cartoony, the bodies are fake, the blood is just a dark spot.  It’s sad, it’s heart wrenching, but it is not visceral.  But as you are fully use to having this shield, the movie at its very end hits you with something else.  The filmmaking takes a strong turn and the hit is abrupt and shakes you, or at least me, very hard.  It’s an extremely powerful film, and it’s extremely well done.

Dirty Harry – Huh.  What a crappy movie.  No really!  I know it’s a classic and it’s so bad ass and all that, but it’s not actually any good.  Maybe in 1932 when no one had seen a tough as nails cop who breaks the rules to get the job done, it was novel.  But now?  It’s kinda lame.  The story can only be seen as generic (whilst inflicted by the 70s) to someone who is seeing it for the first time nowadays.  Clint Eastwood isn’t cool, I’ve seen him be cool, put him in any western and he’s a badass, in this he’s just corny.  I didn’t really expect to love this, but I thought it might be at least kinda good, jeez.

Reservation Road – This movie is alright.  It has a kind of trite seeming premise – a kid is killed in a hit and run, we follow the story of the father obsessed with solving it and the guilt of the man who did it.  It’s actually better than it sounds there, joe-ack-quinn phoenix and that other dude are pretty convincing.  It’s not a bad movie, I wasn’t super into it, but it’s not bad.  Seems to stretch on a bit long, but it’s not bad.

I Love You, Man – So I had heard this movie was good from a couple places, I don’t really agree.  It’s not a bad movie, it has a kind of fun premise, it’s a romantic comedy for a bromance.  But a premise does not a film make.  It’s kind of like a lame SNL sketch where you say to yourself “I see how that should be funny” but it the end it’s just kind of blah and goes on forever.  It’s not bad, I chuckled a couple times, but I didn’t really laugh.  It’s really just a lame romantic comedy, except with the wacky dude-on-dude premise.  I get how taking romantic comedy tropes and applying them to friends is theoretically funny.  It’s just not that funny in real life is all.

Baby Mama – Man, I guess I have my haterpants on lately.  This movie was pretty much crap.  There were a couple funny bits, but not much.  All us nerds love tina fey, she’s hot and smart, win win, but she’s playing liz lemon in this movie, and I’m already over that on 30 rock, I don’t need 2 hours of it here.  And I never really liked amy poehler that much, least of all her white trashy obnoxious characters.  Not good, whatchagonnado.

Blade Runner – So I finally saw blade runner!  It’s pretty good.  It’s mostly the atmosphere that wins me over.  Given that this is the basis for so much that came after, you can’t help but look at it that way (said the guy who thought dirty harry was crap).  But it has so many touches of different genres that are present but not overbearing, it ends up feeling very subtle.  You have a sort of cyberpunk feel, dystopian framework, film noir environment, nature of humanity themes, but none of it is particularly heavy handed, to the film’s credit.  It is an old movie, it looks pretty 80s, even remastered, and some of the moments are corny.  But they are mostly weird enough that you accept it as part of the weird future.  Daryl Hannah, after all, is a total weird hair band freak, but it totally works.  Actually, I watched the “final cut” ridley scott version of this movie.  In retrospect I wish I had watched the original because I would have really liked the film noir narration (interesting how it felt film noir anyway).  I think I’ll watch it again that way.  It’s not a particularly amazing movie, really, it didn’t blow me away, maybe because it’s not 1982.  But battlestar blew me away (until it got dumb anyway) partially because of this, some of my favorite movies exist partially because of this, when the parallels are so clear it’s hard to ignore it’s effect.  So in the end I really liked it.  Maybe if I loved cop movies, instead of them being corny, I’d have felt that way about dirty harry?

Religulous – This is interesting to come soon after I read that dawkins book.  Bill Maher, as much as I love his show and agree with most of what he says, is also kind of a dick.  It’s the same question: why do all the people who bring up these things I agree with tend to be dicks?  Dawkins, Maher, Michael Moore, probably more I can’t think of.  Are they the only ones with the personality to force these issues?  Are they the only ones we pay attention to?  But this is about the movie.  The movie is pretty good, it, like the dawkins book, doesn’t have much that I haven’t heard.  But in this case he’s confronting people.  That is both douchey and great.  There are times when he simply asks questions and it seems almost an honest discussion, and that’s great.  But he is sometimes just making fun of a person, not always great.  Someone I would make fun of in private, I’m sure, just not make a movie about.  The editing is also good and bad.  Sometimes he’s just inserting stupid sounds or clips to mock his interview subject, that’s not fair or reasonable.  Sometimes it’s intelligent and has a good point.  Sometimes it mocks bill maher!  The edits are quick too, which makes the thing seem chopped together, which is not in the movie’s favor.  An interview segment that was probably a solid uninterrupted 3 minutes looks like nine 20 second segments added together.  And that looks like it was edited unfairly, so I just think it’s a bad choice.  It’s also a little deconstructionist.  It likes to show the interview prep, people checking mikes.  Mostly this is to make fun of people as if you can’t use a mike to talk about religion, which I find unfair.  It’s an interesting movie, but like all documentaries it is biased and it’s clear that it is.  Like dawkins, I agree with him, but I don’t really like him.

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