The Snook and I saw two very different and interesting movies this weekend. The first was Princess Mononoke, which we’ve had on DVD for ages but somehow never got around to viewing. We watched the dubbed version, thinking it might be easier to get into the story. Big mistake. Instead I spent half the film going, “That’s Billy Bob Thornton! … That’s Claire Danes! … That’s Jada Pinkett Smith!” Didn’t really help with the suspension of disbelief, you know? I understand that Miramax wanted big names in order to entice folks who don’t normally watch anime to pick this one up, but I feel like it might have served the story better to use voices we didn’t automatically recognize. Next time we watch it, we’ll use the subtitles. Anyway, aside from the voices I thought it was great. I’m not much of an anime fan, but you don’t have to be with this film. It really works on the level of an epic live-action picture. The characters are still stylized, but the backgrounds and scenery are on a level with anything Disney’s ever done. The plot was much more intricate than I’d expected and I was never quite sure who to cheer for (that’s part of the reason it’s so good). Check out Ebert’s review for a professional opinion. If you’re in the video store and you feel like something different, I recommend you pick this one up.
The other film we saw was Dirty Deeds, a new Australian film that’s just opened. The Snook’s a big Bryan Brown fan, so I dutifully went along even though I hate gangster pictures. To my amazement I found myself really enjoying it! The actors are all amazing, especially Brown, Toni Collette, and John Goodman. In fact, Goodman’s character was the most interesting of all to me. The Chicago mafia has sent him and his partner to Sydney to get in on the lucrative poker machine gambling business. The partner is a volatile psychopath, but Goodman is a good-hearted guy who wishes he’d gotten out of the profession years ago. Brown plays the kingpin of the Sydney “pokies” racket, who’s trying desperately to protect his little empire from these larger American forces. He’s also introducing his nephew to the business, a young guy that’s just returned from Vietnam. I really enjoyed seeing the way director David Caesar drew parallels between the two sets of men: the older, experienced Brown and Goodman and their younger, immature protegÃ©s. The cinematography is also excellent, with lots of flashy camera angles and movement. Like I said, I went in expecting to tolerate it, and instead I really liked it. Highly recommended (if it ever makes it to the States). Oh, a word of warning though: these are THICK Australian (“‘Strine”) accents. Even I had difficulty with some of them at the beginning. It’s not quite Trainspotting, but you do have to pay attention.