Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Monuments Men - Interesting Book, OK Movie

Movie: The Monuments Men
My Rating: 3 stars

I hate it when Hollywood gets its grubby paws on actually fascinating, historical stories.  That’s because those cynical directors and producers always feel they need to jazz up the drama to sell it to a wider audience.  And, in doing so, they cheapen what makes these “true stories” so compelling in the first place—the fact that they actually happened.  Although, this story is so nuanced and complex that it really would have been tough to predict how it would have been received, even in its unadulterated form.
First of all, this is a WWII drama.  Those are always a big draw.  But it isn’t a story about combat, or the Holocaust, or Hitler’s sick and twisted psyche.  It’s about the decidedly less glamorous division of the army that was in charge of preserving historical landmarks and works of art from the ravages of war, whether it be from destruction or looting.  On one hand, this is a story about spying and covert operations.  But, on the other, most of the action involves reading museum inventory lists and shipping manifests.  So, you’re going to lose a few people there.  Although, why people wouldn’t want to learn about all the masterpieces that so narrowly escaped being destroyed forever is beyond me.  That’s why I read the book.  But, clearly the filmmakers didn’t think that account would be interesting enough based on the money they must have had to shell out to lure in its A-list cast.  Just reading from the top of the call sheet we see George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin.  That can’t have been cheap.
All this being said, I’m not quite sure what could be done to fix the film.  It definitely didn’t need all the jokey humor sequences.  I understand comic relief and all, but it felt out of place.  I guess they could have tried to make this more of a “racing-the-clock” thriller.  Because, these guys really did face a pretty harrowing time crunch.  They had to track down shipments of stolen art before they disappeared into untraceable Nazi cellars, or even worse, were destroyed out of spite.  But, these hunts played out over the course of months and years, so it might have been hard to make the timing feel tense.  But, I’m just grasping at straws here.  I’m not a filmmaker.

Maybe this movie would have just been better as a documentary.  That would have been very satisfying.  The story really is one of the most interesting parts of the war that we’re never taught.  Of course, the audience for documentaries is usually pretty small.  So, I understand why the studio may have wanted to turn this into more of a historical fiction with stylized action and big name actors.  But, I wasn’t too impressed.  I guess this movie is worth watching if you don’t know anything about this history.  It’s worth learning about.  But, really I think you’d be better off with the book.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus - Worth a Revisit

Movie: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
My Rating: 4 stars

I’ve written about this movie before, but I’m revisiting it because I really did have a dramatically different experience upon watching it a second time.  I didn’t care for this movie the first time I saw it, and I think that’s because I was just baffled.  This is a Terry Gilliam movie, and he’s always been known for his fantastical, dreamy creations.  And, this movie was so disorienting the first time I watched it, that I had a very hard time keeping track of what was going on.  But, with a basic understanding of the core narrative under my belt, I was able to focus on and enjoy this film.  It’s full of absolutely amazing details, dreamy logic, and some darkly comedic philosophy.  The costumes alone are a complete masterpiece!
At its core, this is a story about a deal with the devil, “Mr. Nick.”  And the devil is the role that Tom Waits was born to play.  Mr. Nick is a gambling man.  He loves to make a deal.  But, he doesn’t necessarily care about winning.  He likes the process.  He likes to watch his prey sweat it out.  He likes the torment.  So, he’s been in a constantly-renewing, centuries-long deal with Dr. Parnassus.  It’s a race to see who can convert the most souls.  The prize is the soul of the doctor’s daughter, Valentina.  Parnassus, of course, represents the virtuous, moral choice—self-sacrifice, hard work, and all of that.  And, the devil offers the easy choice—base pleasures and instant gratification.  And, it’s always a very close race.  Almost as many people choose the easy route as the hard.  So, just whenever it looks like the contest might be coming to an end, the devil renegotiates.  He doesn’t want it to end.  He loves the fight.  He loves the desperation.
This contest takes place in a dream world created by Dr. Parnassus and his meditative trance technique.  He learned this power in a very spiritual monastery.  Volunteers get up onto his travelling stage, enter through a magical doorway, and find themselves in their own, personal paradise.  All their secret desires are there for them to enjoy and bask in.  And then they are asked to make a choice.  Will they choose the comfort of their worldly pleasures?  Or will they make a sacrifice and strive toward a higher ideal?  It’s actually pretty fun to look inside a few characters minds—seeing what their guilty pleasures are, and guessing what they’ll choose.  This was the portion of the film that was initially so disorienting for me.  I couldn’t make sense of it at first.  But, this time I really got to enjoy the madness—the dreams and nightmares these sequences depicted.
Of course, we all remember the buzz surrounding the making of this film.  Heath Ledger, who plays one of the main characters, died in the middle of filming.  The director and producers had to decide how to complete the film with one of its main actors gone.  And, I really liked the solution they came up with.  The story is so defined by dream logic that it’s only natural that people’s faces would change in this realm.  You’ve had dreams like that, right?  Dreams where you know it’s your friend, but it looks like someone else.  Well, that’s the trick they used here.  Heath Ledger’s face changes every time he enters the Imaginarium to match the fantasies of his companions.  It was a very clever solution.  I imagine they had to change the script a little as well, but I think it was a successful mechanism.

I think this time I would recommend this movie.  I’ve definitely come around on it.  But only do it if you have enough time to watch it twice.  Don’t view it one right after the other, of course.  You’ll need a little time to stew on the insanity.  Come back to it after a few months. But, I predict that on the second viewing, you’ll understand enough about this crazy world to actually enjoy the magic.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Imitation Game - Don't Waste Your Time

Movie: The Imitation Game
My Rating: 2 stars

This is a garbage movie—heavy-handed and tone deaf.  But it’s even worse than that.  The film actually insults the intelligence of its audience.  This is the story of Alan Turing and his attempts to build a machine to decrypt Germany’s Enigma machine during World War II.  And the movie wants us to really believe that his story is meaningful.  But it doesn’t trust that viewers are intelligent enough to make even the smallest inferences.  The script will give us a clue, then pan over to the item under discussion.  And that’s usually enough for a viewer to get the drift.  But, then the film just goes ahead and explicitly explains the situation to us anyway.  Whoever directed this film must have hated subtlety.  
The script also drones on and on with the clunkiest passages of exposition—really clich├ęd stuff.  Watching this movie was a serious test of my patience.  The script was so maddeningly corny, and the scenes so trite and on-the-nose, that it was all I could do to stop myself from hurling insults at the screen.  But, that’s a lie.  I was heckling the film pretty much constantly.  I feel very sorry for the poor people who watched this movie with me, because I’m pretty sure I was a nightmare of a viewing companion.  It’s a good thing I didn’t have any rotten cabbages to hurl at the screen.
And, all of this makes me really sad, because Alan Turing is one of the most interesting man in history.  He had an amazing mathematical mind, and h solved one of the biggest puzzles cryptographers have ever faced.  This is the father of computers we’re talking about!  But, this movie is just generic Oscar bait.  I can’t tell whether the director was just cynically seeking an award, or whether he really has such unsophisticated taste.

After all these insults, I bet you’re wondering why I didn’t just give this movie one star.  And, I guess I rate it a bit higher because the movie actually looks very impressive.  It clearly had a very large budget.  And the filmmakers definitely spent money on costumes, and sets, and quality actors.  The production value is very high.  It’s just a shame that I had to listen to the trash dialogue.  Ugh!  And, sit through all the clumsy flashbacks.  It’s just a shame that they’ve managed to camouflage this stinker as an important film.  So, I do not recommend this movie  You’ll only be disappointed.

Friday, July 10, 2015

R100 - You've Been a Very Bad Boy

Movie: R100
My Rating: 3 stars

Well, this is a thoroughly strange movie.  It’s definitely not for novice film fans.  I can’t say I really enjoyed watching this movie.  But, at least I found it to be an interesting departure from my standard fare. It’s a story about a man who signs up for a dominatrix service.  The deal is that for one year, he will be followed around by a variety of these women and be beat up or publically humiliated at unpredictable intervals.   He never knows when they’ll show up, and he can’t cancel the contract.  Maybe they’ll show up during a date at a nice restaurant.  Perhaps, they’ll come to his kid’s school play.  Or, maybe they’ll visit this man at his place of work and beat the living crap out of him.  That arrangement would keep you on edge.  And, the film is Japanese.  Big surprise, I know.
This film doesn’t really fit into the traditional narrative format.  Scenes seem random and unexplained—a non-linear timeline.  Sequences melt into one another.  The logic all seems very dreamy.  And, the stark cinematography really gives the movie a stylish, noir feel.  So, the film is beautiful and edgy.  But it’s still really weird.  This really is the kind of flick you’re going to want to watch alone if it piques your interest at all.  Not because it’s shameful or anything.  (Of course, the themes are all very sexual).  But, the experience is so strange that I don’t think I’d want to subject anyone else to it unless they’re already 100% on board.
Of course, I’m always up for watching a strange flick.  There are very few movies out there that I regret having watched.  I can always find something to take away from even the most boring or bizarre film.  So, watching a movie like this just added a few more stylistic concepts to my repertoire.  And, perhaps you’ll find something interesting to take away from this film as well.  But, I realize that this movie is a pretty tough sell.  You’d think that the erotic elements of the story would be a big draw.  But, believe me when I say that this is definitely not a sexy movie.  It’s more of a black comedy, if anything.  Although, I think of it more as experimental.

Watch this movie if you want.  It’s weird, but I know that a lot of my readers are weirdos just like me.  So, knock yourselves out.  Just don’t come crying to me when your girlfriend dumps you for being a pervert.  She probably didn’t understand you anyway.