March 5, 2007

Brief Movie Thoughts

A spattering of words about some 2006 films that I've watched recently but haven't commented on.

Sympathy of Lady Vengeance, dir. Park - If you were like me and despised Chan-Wook Park's earlier revenge-trilogy entrant Oldboy then you should probably check Lady Vengeance out because it is much much better. Park's visual style is much less grungy here, and instead ramps up the seductive cinematography with splashes of colour and well-designed sets and costumes. Much less needlessly over-the-top violence, instead the violence here is much more of the anti-violence violence. If that is such a thing. It's a deeply disturbing, yet imaginative and reflective piece. Yeong-ae Lee is wonderful as the title character, too. B

Little Children, dir. Field - I was not a fan of Todd Field's previous film, the Oscar-nominated In the Bedroom. Too lazily snore-enducing for my liking (the odd plate-smashing or bitch slap being the exception), but Little Children is (like the above film) much better than the one that came before it despite near-identical themes. Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson are excellent as the title characters (or, that's what I assume the title means. right? or am I completely wrong?), but the supporting characters (like In the Bedroom) get the short change. Jackie Earle Haley's creepy paedophile character is used merely as a backup device for whenever Field gets bored with the Winslet and Wilson storyline (which, it seems, is quite often in the film's final act). There are slipups (the narration is at times awkward and unfocused) and characters are introduced and/or do stuff that is not explained (the woman who goes walking with Winslet is...?) Still, it looks and sounds gorgeous and the acting by the two leads more than makes up for occasionally mishandled second half. B

Pan's Labyrinth, dir. del Toro - There's no denying that this film is absolutely stunning to look at. From the wildly imaginative and thoroughly Oscar-deserved art direction, to the creepy and sinister make-up work, down to the much less-fantastical but just as awesome costume. It's also a welcome surprise for the ears, with the score and sound design proving effective. I don't think it works quite as well as it thinks it does - the transissions between the two worlds (fantasy and reality) seem slaphappy and disjointed, and there are unintentional goofs that arise. Still, it's a feast and I felt like gorging on it. B+

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, dir. Winterbottom - Something like the tenth film Michael Winterbottom has directed since the start of the decade (a quick check of his IMDb page says it's his sixth, but has made one other since with another two out later this year. Unfortunately, his apparently lust for filmmaking (something that should be applauded) doesn't work for him on this metafilm version of Tristram Shandy. An unfilmable book by many accounts (a character says so too in the film) becomes a film about the filming of said movie. While the film seems to tap into the main thematic device of the book (a man tries to tell his life story but is constantly interrupted, I believe), and that may be all well and good for the book, but for a 90-minute film it just doesn't work. It goes around and around in circles showing us stuff we have already seen and then breaks it up with scenes of actors being themselves that, save for the rare few occasions (the shots over the opening and closing credits are the funniest and best), just aren't that entertaining. Of course, Steve Coogan tries his hardest, but I was just dreadfully numbed by this film. The best part of the film was actually Gillian Anderson who is starting to make a name for herself with these sort of fleeting roles (see also The Last King of Scotland, or better yet - don't). Maybe Winterbottom should stop for a few months and work out a proper film? C


Bruno Packer said...

Lady Vengeance is fcking great! I loved it!

Just watched Ten canoes on Friday. Holy Fuck! WOW!

Bruno Packer said...

I'm gonna pass on the comment you made on the magnificently brutal High tension over Nathe's blog.

Who cares if the ending was cheap and a fraud. That movie made me almost faint on the unbearable tension.

You are excused 'cos I know you are not a horror fan. Best regards.

JA said...

Well I'm definitely a horror fan and the ending of High Tension made me so angry that it made me hate the rest of the movie. I'll give you that everything that came before it was masterfully done, but that ending was such a piece of shit, and offensive, that is ruined everything that came before it. I don't care how high Aja ratcheted up that tension before that; once he pulled the rug out from under the audience with that cheap stunt, it most definitely tainted everything that came before it.

JA said...

Also, yes, Lady Vengeance is awesome; glad you gave it a chance, Glenn! After your INSANE dislike of Oldboy and all. ;-)

adam k. said...

Well, I disagree on In The Bedroom being a worse film than Children. I found it to have a much better sustained mood and it just felt classier in general. I thought its slow pace was more than made up for by the beautiful low-keyness of it, and that great, jarring music, and the lovely acting. Plus, then, when that slap comes, you're like "holy SHIT!"

I would give it a B+ I think if I'm recalling correctly how I felt about it.

But you know I'm with you on the Little Children grade. Having read the book I think gives you a very different perspective on it. But the overall quality perception is the same. They did a lot wrong, but the casting was just so spot-on, and the acting was so great, that it was basically good despite itself. I think I liked Jackie Earle Haley a lot more than you did, but they definitely f***ed up his storyline some, especially the ending. In the book, his reason for being is a lot clearer.

The thing about Pan's Labyrinth that I took out of a second screening is that the reality/fantasy transitions aren't bothersome because if you take the film at face value, as it seems to want you to, then it's ALL reality. In this particular adult fairytale, there really is that other world that Ofelia goes to, it's just that no one but her can see it. So I stopped caring whether the transitions made sense or not, cause the rules of reality need not apply. Does that make sense? When I saw it a second time, I really didn't care about what significance/sense the fantasy elements had, I just went with it.

That said, I think that despite beautiful music and visuals and allegory, the general feel of the storytelling and acting is a little too stilted and pedestrian for it to be an A film. And I think there's some merit to the criticism that it's "too adult for children and too childish for grownups" (ModFab's issue) that leaves it without a true target audience. Though yeah, it's totally enjoyable regardless.

And incidentally, I gave this one the same grade you did, too.


Why didn't I just write all this on my blog??

Kamikaze Camel said...

Bruno, Ja, Lady Vengeance just keeps improving in my mind, so that's some top stuff!

Bruno, I am most definitely a fan of horror when it's done well. But crap like Hostel or the end of Haute Tension is not, in my mind, classified as "done well". Great to hear about Ten Canoes!!

Adam, I nearly fell asleep in the cinema of In the Bedroom. C from me. Just. So. Slow. Tom Wilkinson was really great though. Hated Marisa Tomei though.

Yeah, the Jackie Earle character just seemed to unnecessary in the grand scheme, and even if it's made clearer in the book that still doesn't excuse it in the film. I didn't not like Haley, I just didn't think it was anything special. As the friend I saw it with said "It was just another performance."

The transission thing in Pan's for me was that it felt like del Toro just randomly went "Okay, now it's time for a fantasy sequence". I dunno. It felt a little wobly on the execution is all.