Movie Round-Up

Movie Round-Up
Peter PanWednesday afternoon the Snook and I headed out to catch Peter Pan, which I’d been eagerly awaiting. It didn’t disappoint. In a word, this movie is all about sex. Seriously. It’s about thirteen-year-olds figuring out about sex… all in a metaphorical way, of course. In the beginning I thought Peter was pretty annoying – why is he the only American? – but by the end I’m ashamed to admit I was swooning like Germaine Greer at a peewee football game. The joys of the film are not all pedophilic, either; Jason “Lucious Malfoy” Isaacs is villainously yummy as Captain Hook. I liked the many parallels that were drawn throughout the story linking Hook and Mr. Darling, Hook and Peter, and Hook and Tinker Bell. Incidentally, the film’s visuals play much better on the big screen than they did in trailers. I was expecting them to look rather cheap and cartoony but the effect is more like storybook illustrations. Highly recommended, but don’t take any thirteen-year-olds unless you want to hear them giggle the whole time. (Ebert says all this way better than I ever could.)

Spirited AwayWe’ve actually had Spirited Away for some time now but somehow we never got around to watching it. We should’ve popped it in sooner. It’s excellent. I wouldn’t characterize myself as a big animé fan – and some of the Snook’s favorites put me to sleep – but this was accessible, fun, scary, weird, and funny all at the same time. A little girl and her parents are driving to their new house when they get lost. They discover an abandoned theme park and her father wants to explore. Before long, he and his wife are transformed into giant pigs and their daughter Chihiro must try to rescue them. It doesn’t look how you expect Japanimation to look. I’ve never seen anything like Yubaba or Boh (the giant baby) before. I loved how Chihiro dealt with the River God. The story seemed surreal at first but it was logical and it never cheated. It reminded me a lot of Coraline by Neil Gaiman. We watched it with the English language soundtrack and the characterizations were great. (I’m still patting myself on the back for recognizing Susan Egan’s voice.) Again, very highly recommended.

Gosford ParkGosford Park is another one that we’ve been sitting on for too long. I wouldn’t recommend it unreservedly – I know too many folks that would never enjoy an ensemble English social commentary/comedy/murder mystery – but the Snook and I thought it was pretty good. At first the confusion of characters and plot lines was overwhelming and we spent a lot of time going, “Now which one was Lord Stockbridge?” and “Whose allowance is getting cut off?” But after a while you get the basic outline and things become clearer. We laughed at Ryan Phillipe’s ridiculous Scottish accent but were later forced to mentally apologize. (Sorry, Ryan.) The Snook and I confessed to a mutual and irrational hatred for Kristin Scott Thomas. Bob Balaban, as ever, was hilarious. Once the murder was committed, we had a lot of fun suggesting theories and motives. Neither of us were right in the end (but that’s only because you discount the real killer because of their apparent lack of motive). Oh, and if you’re a fan of Jeremy Northam at all, you must rent this film. He plays an English movie star and there are several lovely passages in the film when he plays the piano and sings. “Please God,” I thought to myself, “let that be Mr. Knightley’s real voice.” It was. Beeeeyoootiful.

Return of the KingAnd at last we come to it… The Return of the King. First, the good. (And now you’re getting ready to yell at me because if there’s “the good”, then there has to be “the bad”, right? I’m donning my flameproof vest as we speak.) The battle scenes were excellent. I was literally squirming in my seat. The CG characters just had a sense of weight that I never felt in the recent Star Wars movies. The big lumbering creatures actually looked real, and when they hit people you felt it. Sean Astin was wonderful and he deserves to be recognized. The Charge of the Rohirrim was just… awe-inspiring. I gasped in amazement. Okay, and now “the bad.” See, I just didn’t get into it. I didn’t cry (though I got a little moist when Theoden died) and I never really managed to suspend my disbelief. The things that I liked were all technical, but it never engaged my soul. In all honestly this is a problem I have with the book too. Maybe it’s a girl thing. I dunno. I was just never able to work up any real concern over the characters on the screen other than Theoden and Sam (and to be honest, I might not have identified as much with Sam if I didn’t already have such strong character associations with Sean Astin). I was looking forward to Eowyn’s big triumph over the Witch King, but it ended up a little too overly dramatic and “Conan the Barbarian” to be totally satisfying. I was totally bored by Denethor’s stupid dysfunctional family. And what’s up with cutting the whole Eowyn/Faramir relationship? They both disappear til the end. It’s a completely poor resolution to the whole love triangle setup from the second film. (I know, I know. “Wait for the extended edition.” But if that’s the case, then I’m even more annoyed because the Eowyn bits we saw in the film are obviously only there to appease the feminist critics. There’s no interest in resolving her storyline; just a grrrl power moment so they can put a female action figure in the Happy Meals.) Eh, even that rant makes me sound more involved than I actually was. I just kept wishing that Viggo would wash his hair and wondering why Arwen’s decision to become mortal resulted in her lipcolor fading and wishing that there were more Legolas close-ups and congratulating myself on lasting through yet another battle without needing to pee. I never got past that. Even now, writing about these four films, the one that lingers with me the most is Spirited Away. Maybe that says more about me than it does about the films…

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  1. One point about the Eowyn/Witch King fight which (in hindsight) bugs me is that in the theatrical cut of the film the outcome doesn’t really affect much, beyond buying Eowyn time for a last chat with Theoden. It’s been a long time since I read the book, but I seem to remember that the vanquishing of the most fearsome of the Nazgul was a bit of a turning point in the battle. (For what it’s worth, I don’t necessarily think that they included the truncated Eowyn story to appease feminist critics: I’d think that if anything the Witch King confrontation was kept in there to appease rabid fans of the book.)

    ROTK really needs the audience to be caught up in it if it’s to work its magic. From the lighting of the beacons onwards I was so caught up that I doubt I’d have noticed if the cinema had burned to the ground, so I was in no position to notice the little details which didn’t quite come off. (For example: when Elrond shows up and returns Anduril to Aragorn, then mentions that Arwen is dying as Sauron’s power increases. Looking back, all I can say is “Yeah, right!” Because without that little bit of personal motivation, I’m sure Aragorn was going to say, “Thanks for fixing my sword. I’m going back to life as a Ranger now. Theoden can fight all those Orcs by himself! But at the time I didn’t notice. Which probably means that I had no business posting a review of the film so soon after I’d seen it!)

  2. EXACTLY. See, I was in a state of mind where I noticed that bit immediately. In fact, I turned to Rodd and whispered, “That’s bullshit, right?” As if he needed some more motivation to become the king.

  3. “spirited away” is seriously one of the most beautiful films ever made. i was in awe watching that film. miyazake is a genius, and if you liked this you should check out his other films kris, as i would say that i am not a great anime fan either, but miyazake rocks the casbah. my personal fave of his is “princess mononoke”, one of the most heartbreaking films ever made period.
    i haven’t seen ROTK yet, still about a week away for that infernal gold class booking….

  4. We’ve got Mononoke and I liked it a lot, but I found the story more foreign and hard to understand. Maybe I’ll go back and give it another shot…

  5. To me, the comment by Elrond about Arwen wasn’t about giving Aragorn motivation, it was about keeping that connection–the love story–going in the absence of love scenes. And, it may have given motivation to Elrond to finally get involved personally rather than just turning his back on the “race of man” and middle-Earth.

    Personally, I was riveted throughout the film — I’ve seen it twice, once as part of the Newline “Trilogy Tuesday” event and separately and wept throughout both times. I’d suggest that it has to do with not having read all of the books (yet), but my husband who has read them many times also wept and cheered with the crowds.

  6. Leigh-Anne, that’s a good point about maintaining the Aragorn-Arwen love story thread. Which was always going to be a struggle for Peter Jackson, considering that Arwen is barely in the books outside the Appendices. (Still, that solution was preferable to the alternatives of either inventing a new major female character or else somehow expanding Eowyn’s part so that she showed up in FOTR.) I’d have preferred Jackson to have inserted another visit to Aragorn in his dreams rather than make such an unsubtle attempt to ramp up the level of the threat.

    As for Elrond, I’m not sure I buy that it was Arwen’s impending death that persuaded him to get involved. Insofar as he was motivated by personal considerations, surely the mere fact that Arwen had decided not to depart with the rest of the Elves would have been sufficient to persuade him to return to the fray alongside his former human allies?

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