Category Archives: Movies

Azumi

Azumi is not a film that takes itself too seriously. It’s fluff – great for that sleepy sunday afternoon after a heavy night out. Basically a filmed anime, it does a one thing so right that it needs to be called out. The camera stays still while the fight moves around.

The recent trend in Hollywood has been to put the audience closer to the fight. Put them in the middle of the fight. (Looking at you Paul Greengrass). This does not help. In the middle of the fight is confusing. Bewilderment is probably not the emotion you want to elicit in the middle of a fight sequence.

Azumi has some great fight scenes, and they’re filmed clearly and with an eye towards an overview of the geography of the fight.  The final battle starts with a wonderful crane shot over the hundreds of warriors running towards the lone heroine.

The camera does get to play a starring role at the end of the fight: Azumi and the evil villain fight on a plank suspended high above the ground, and the camera goes into spinning gyrations around the two as they spar. The vertigo inducing camerawork is excusable on the grounds that the seasick-inducing effect is probably what was wanted.

Battlestar Galactica 2.5

The most excellent show (Time magazine says so) is back on air, and thanks to the magic of the internet, I don’t have to wait a year for the DVD to show up here in Norway. Even more impressive is the producer (Ron Moore) who puts up commentary on the episode on the web every frackin’ week. What’s fascinating is the way he describes the evolution of an episode. The show may claim that there is an overall plan, but the tales of day-to-day writing, rewriting, restructuring and retrying makes it all seem like a struggle to make it as good as possible. The mentions of discarded storylines and salvaged bits and pieces from ideas that never went anywhere makes me look at all stories with a new eye.
Anyway: Spaceships, robots, drama. Bliss.

History of Violence

A History of Violence is a David Cronenberg film. This means a sense of unease and sudden shocks. He knows we know. So the opening sequence is brilliant. A long, languid tracking shot of a couple of guys – could be anyone – checking out of a motel. Something feels wrong, but there’s nothing really to put your finger on. You sit and wait for the shock which does not come.

You can tell it’s a Cronenberg flick. People get shot, but you see that in all kinds of movies these days. Only Cronenberg will stop for a second and show you the left over bits of jaw hanging off the face. It’s only for a second, but it’s enough.

There are a couple of different layers at work in the story. One is typical Cronenberg – the issue of self: what defines you as you; revulsion at your self (be it your body or your mind). Here it’s more about the mind of the mild-mannered guy, locked in the body of a killer.

The other layer is political: what justifies violence? The son hitting back on the bully feels provoked, but at that specific point they had done nothing more than talk. The son launched a pre-emptive retaliation against his bullies.

Another reading of this might pose the biological question: is a proclivity for violence inheritable? Does the son react violently because of the father’s true nature?

Great movie, with great pacing. Granted: it’s a slow pace, but that makes it all the more enjoyable.

Also, some sex scenes that you wouldn’t expect to see the former Mr. Aragorn in. Nudge nudge. Know what I mean?

Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia – visually impressive, but hampered by the source material. I really don’t buy that the whiny teenager becomes an able swordsman overnight. It might work in a childrens book, but on screen it just just looks unbelievable. He can barely hold a stick, much less a two handed sword, let alone kill anyone with it.

The Christian messages (redemption, tolerance, belief) aren’t hammered to heavily – the analgies are there, but they remain analogies. Still, I look forward to hearing how this movie featuring magic is “good”, while other movies featuring magic are “bad”.

Kong is King

King Kong – superb. Maybe 10 minutes too long, but after the first fifteen minutes the story barrels along like the roller-coaster ride it is supposed to be. Kong vs the Dinosaurs is astounding, but it is annoyingly filmed in the currently-popular close-up , where a jumble of legs, teeth, arms, fists and heads blur past the camera. The odd medium shot wouldn’t have killed the mood, you know?

Kong looks amazing.

Aslan (in the Narnia trailer) looks decidedly more iffy. Less solid for some bizarre reason.

There is just something immensely satisfying in watching a huge, angry, potbellied gorilla go nuts, and then fall in love. Absolutely stunning.

Serenity

Damn Joss Whedon. Bastard!

Killing off likeable characters suddenly and unexpectedly is not the Hollywood Way!
Wasn’t he paying attention in scriptwriting-for-idiots class?

Fuck.
I’m gonna have to see it again in the hope that it turns out better the second time round.

Enron – The Smartest Guys in the Room

The Enron scandal is still not finished (Ken Lay and Skilling are up for trial next month) but the documentary makes for interesting viewing. The California energy crisis gets a bit of coverage, but it (naturally) is one-sided look at how Enron mis-used the rules to its own advantage. The tapes from the trader desks about how they would shut off power plants in order to raise the price would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. That California shot itself in the foot when it made the rules is mentioned in passing. The theory that Enron helped bring the Governator to power is too delicious not to be true.

The movie draws a link to the Milgram experiments – that people at Enron become evil because they were told to by the top brass – but I think Enron was more akin to Tulip fever, or Lord of the Flies: without an authority at the top, chaos and savagery quickly rose to the surface in the corporate culture.

Definitely worth seeing – it is very much a tale of hubris and tragedy. The trader who closes out the movie is right on the money when he says that people should have asked questions, but no-one dared to. The follow-on collapse of Andersen and the investigations into several of the worlds largest banks also underlines that Enron was one of many problems. It was a sympton, not the disease itself.

Mirrormask

Mirrormask is a work of art by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. It manages to hang together in spite of being a structured around a dream, although the absurdity of dream-logic means that the story does jump around in fits and starts.

The good thing is that there is a sensible explanation to what’s going on, and it does come together. The best thing is the consistency of the visual style — McKeans disjointed drawings and acute angles along with Gaiman’s schools of fish floating through the streets make for a visual treat. There are quite a few sequences which remind the reader of the visual style of Books of Magic: life during wartime — although this is probably more coincidence than intent.
Mirrormask: visitng the floating giants

Wallace and Gromit and the Were-Rabbit

Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit — brilliant. A laugh a minute, with jokes of all kinds flying past. Sign gags (like the box around Wallace that “may contain nuts”), visual gags (the church’s painting of the baby Jesus screaming so hard the three wise men cover their ears), puns (“Toupé” “You want to pay? We take checks”), names (“Call me Totty”) and more and more! Definitely worth seeing twice just to catch all the references.

The basic Hammer Horror structure is there, but it’s subverted and made fun of at every turn. Along the way they also manage to poke fun at/pay homage to war movies, King Kong and Frankenstein.