Sunday, January 21, 2007

First movie post of 2007

I'm still seeing movies, it just doesn't seem like it because I fail to write about them these days. I blame 2006 movies for this lapse. It is very difficult to convince myself to sit down and write about movies when I haven't been excited about anything I've seen. This last year was such a disappointment that I often skipped going out to the theater for weeks at a time. I have been getting out to at least one movie a week for years... until last year.

And last summer, when I did muster up the ambition to leave my cozy apartment, I was often totally unimpressed by the movie. Unfortunately, in general 2006 was a very unsatisfying year at the movies. But despite this, apparently this wasn't reflected in ticket sales.

But I'm happy to report an upturn in the movie trends. The late 2006/early 2007 films have been very good. In fact, most of the movies I've seen in the last month have been excellent. Among those were Volver, Children of Men, Blood Diamond, Perfume, Pan's Labyrinth, Letters from Iwo Jima,and Inland Empire. These are films that I can actually bring myself to make the time to write about. I probably won't talk about all of them, but a few are definitely worth some attention.

First, Children of Men. I saw a preview late summer for this film and have been counting the days ever since. How could I not? Alfonso Cuaron. Clive Owen. Chiwetel Ejiofor. Julianne Moore. Not only were the names behind the film fantastic, but it is a near future dystopia. I was so seeing this film the day it opened and did.

And it was everything that I hoped it would be. The tone was dark, pessimistic, chaotic. The glimpse of the future was horrifyingly plausible. Children of Men depicts a future where all the nations of the world have collapsed, leaving Britain as the last country and they are blocking immigration. Thus the backdrop for this story about the attempts to get the only pregnant woman in the world safely to the Human Project is a world filled with war, violence, danger and chaos. And to cast Clive Owen as a kind of everyman of this future was brilliant. Now I admit that plot has problems. Thinking back on the story, I have some big questions about this future vision of earth, but none of the plot problems bothered me while watching it. Perhaps because Children of Men was delivered as an action packed thriller, I didn't worry about the specifics of the implausibility of a future without children and just went with it. And I'm glad that I did, because it was a wonderfully thrilling movie that is among my favorites of the year.

Perfume: a story of a murderer is also worthy of mention. This is very daring and unusual. I have a hard time comparing it to anything else, simply because it tells the story of a man who's entire existence is dominated by his sense of smell. Can you imaging being constantly aware of every scent, being able to distinguish between the smell of all things and most importantly, being compelled to follow your nose when making every decision? Scent is only something I am only casually aware of. I notice when someone is wearing too much perfume, I respond to food scents, and recoil from the smells of the city that rise in the summer, but otherwise, this is a very neglected sense. So I cannot help a bit of surprise over Tykwer's success with creating a parable around a character with an unusually advanced sense of smell.

Perfume is an intoxicating film full of amazing moments, excellent performances, and a totally captivating story. But there is one weakness, it is very difficult, if not impossible to identify with the protagonist, Jean-Baptist Grenouille. This was a problem for me, because while I was constantly intrigued with the film, it was difficult to really connect with it. So watching Perfume was a rather cold and intellectual movie-going experience that rarely struck any emotional chords. This was in sharp contrast with both Pan's Labyrinth and Letters from Iwo Jima

Pan's Labyrinth in some ways is similar to Perfume as both very highly imaginative, innovative, and dark, but in Guillermo del Toro's film, I did feel emotionally connected to Ofelia's adventures into a mysterious world of faeries, dangerous tests and a faun.

At beginning of Pan's Labyrinth, Ofelia is journeying with her very pregnant mother and a heavy stack of books of fairy-tales to meet her step father, a Captain Vidal during a time of much strife and a fascist regime. Ofelia is confronted with an exciting dark fairy-tale world upon her arrival, when she is promised with being a princess of this world by a faun if only she can complete three tasks. These are dangerous tasks that don't appear all that dangerous this alternative world isn't much more sinister than the one in which she has found herself. Ofelia's unborn brother is threatening her mother's life, there are rebellious factions on the rise and her step father is absolutely terrifying. This fantastic fairy-tale for adults is frightening, but also delightfully fantastic and strange.

Letters From Iwo Jima... I'm still digesting this film. I am amazed that Clint Eastwood is behind this film and that it works so wonderfully. Letters was filmed in sepia-tones and the dialog in entirely in Japanese. Assuming Clint is not fluent in Japanese, I am amazed at the powerful punch delivered by this film. The acting was excellent and I believe that it gives a rather authentic glimpse into those last days in Iwo Jima for the Japanese men.

And it is devastating. I never go to war movies because I find I am not interested in war intellectually and the stories are often way too masculine for my taste. However, I went to this film because of the Japanese cast, the opportunity to listen to spoken Japanese, a fascination with Japanese culture and an appreciation for most of Clint Eastwood's recent films. I walked out of the theater tearful and since have been considering the validity of war. I guess that is the purpose of many films of this genre, to personalize war and ask, what is worth the cost of human life? Letters From Iwo Jima gives a fresh perspective on a war with a long film history by letting us see this battle from the perspective of the losing side, the Japanese soldiers. The film also examines nationalism, cultural identity, and honor but most importantly, it tells small heartbreaking stories of the Japanese soldiers. This is an incredible film. Now I'm looking forward to trying to see Flags of Our Fathers since I skipped it last year.
My favorites that I saw last year...

Shortbus
Linda, Linda, Linda
When the Levees Broke
United 93
Brick
The Descent
Three Times
Volver
Children of Men
The Prestige
Casino Royale

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