Jul is not only a time for presents and peace among mankind, but for watching films (and later complaining about them in your blog). Here are some brief reviews of the ones I’ve recently seen. It’s funny how expectations often play a role in your overall movie watching experience, I notice.
Be Kind Rewind. I was looking forward to seeing this, but it was a pretty big disappointment. The premise, as I recalled it from various pre-release summaries, seemed like the perfect set-up for an enjoyable high-spirited comedy: two employees at a video store accidentally erase all their video tapes and then tries re-shooting the films to appease a customer. Except, that’s not quite this film’s premise. Only one of the two main characters work at a video store, and they’re not exactly doing it to appease one customer. The film mixes in the second premise of the old owner of the video store and his love of jazz musician Fats Walker and his struggle to keep his old video store from getting closed down.
These two premises don’t mix very well, and the film doesn’t seem sure if it wants to be a feel good drama about Fats Walker and community spirit, or a high-spirited comedy spoofing the film industry and many of its films. Kept separate these might have worked, but together… they don’t. At least not in this case. In the end we don’t get to see too many of the film re-shoot spoofs either. One of the ones I was looking forward to seeing the most, The Lion King, is given (I believe) a single scene and under half a minute of screen time , and it wasn’t particularly funny either.
Wall-E. It was quite good, but again it didn’t quite live up to my expectations; only the first third of the film takes place on Earth, and going into the film I believed that more or less the entire film would be taking place on Earth. I also believed it wouldn’t feature any other characters besides the old retro robot and new super robot, but it does – both other robots, and even humans. The humans are initially seen in full motion video through some in-film infomercials, which surprised me, but pleasantly so – it looked pretty good, did a good job of giving a back story and supplying some satire of consumerism at the same time, and it didn’t clash too much with the 3D animation. But later in the film actual humans make an appearance to interact with the two robot characters, and now they’re in full 3D. In my opinion they looked too cartoony, not mixing that well with the more realistic look of the first part of the film, and in effect setting the tone for the remaining two thirds of the film the film which became a bit of a standard cartoony action adventure comedy romance romp. I also expected the film to feature little to no dialogue. While it doesn’t feature as much dialogue as other 3D animated films, it does have a fair share.
That being said, I liked it. It was touching, it was amusing, but it didn’t quite reach the heights of a true masterpiece due to a lack of narrative originality. A film about two robots on a post-apocalyptic Earth without any talking? Intriguing! A film about two robots and their hijinks’s aboard a space station full of humans and other robots? Eh, less intriguing. I wish the cartoony-ness could’ve been toned down and that they could’ve kept the action on Earth for the whole movie, or at least for the majority of it.
March Of The Penguins. I saw it on TV with two friends, and we idly chatted through parts of it, which generally isn’t ideal when watching a film (depending on the film). Still, it was an enjoyable enough experience and it seemed like a decent – though not amazing – film. Would love to see some other animals get the same cinematic treatment, but there may not be many things from the animal kingdom that are comparably cinematically dramatic to the penguin death cluster.
A couple of things bothered me, though. One was that there could have been more narration, and in scenes we had to draw our own conclusions. Doing the needed deduction was generally easy, but it didn’t go well with the flow of the film. The other thing was the soundtrack, supplied by French electronic pop artist Émilie Simon. It often felt out of place and distracting, with its generic twinkly electronica indie radio pop sound, especially the parts with lyrics. The actual melodies are decent, but I wish she could have made it fully acoustic and without vocals. The US version actually features an entirely different soundtrack by one Alex Wurman. I’ve heard a few tracks from it, and I really liked it, and it felt a lot more fitting to this kind of project. Want to see if I can’t manage to pick up a copy of it from somewhere online.
But Wikipedia has this to say about it:
“It should be noted however that the version of March of the Penguins that was released in the United States and in English Canada used a more traditional documentary soundtrack scored by Alex Wurman, the local producers fearing that the Émilie Simon soundtrack would be too challenging for North American viewers[.]”
I’m not sure if that’s what these local producers actually said or if it’s just someone contributing to the article being all elitist and condescending. I’m generally against tampering with artistic visions, and I don’t consider myself aesthetically dumb (even though I may not be too keen on noise music, opera, jazz and polka just yet), but I believe I would prefer the Alex Wurman score. DVD releases should definitely offer both alternatives to all regions though, in effect pissing off fewer people and not forcing purists to seek out imports. I fear that they probably haven’t though, sticking to just one or the other soundtrack depending on your region.
Audition. A film by Japanese film maker Takashi Miike, generally labelled as a horror, though it’s one of these films that don’t quite fit into any one clear genre; I’ve also seen it described as a psychological art house thriller. So far I’ve seen three other pieces by Takashi Miike: The Happiness Of The Katakuris, Ichi The Killer, and his Imprint episode from the first season of the TV series Masters Of Horror. It starts off promising enough, with the intriguing set-up of a middle aged man wanting to re-marry and deciding to hold auditions to find a wife. This element doesn’t really feature that heavily in the film and is just a means for the main character to meet the other main character. Towards the end the plot is thrown for a typical art house wild ride where you won’t be sure exactly what’s going on. This annoyed me, as I felt as if the film really didn’t have to be like that and that it detracted rather than, emh, tracted – or rather, contributed – to the overall experience, and if the director had cut maybe 10-15 minutes worth of material the plot could actually have been made fairly coherent. But apparently, from seeing the interview with him that was featured on the DVD, his intention was in part for the film to collapse and for the audience to feel cheated at the end. Well done, then.
Unnecessary art houseness aside, I went into the film expecting to be shocked and disgusted, having read a few brief reviews and opinion pieces on the film, and it more or less delivered. By more or less I mean that I didn’t exactly get shocked or disgusted per se, but I was definitely cringing and sweating and overall feeling uncomfortable during one of the scenes. Takashi Miike seems to be good at making these kinds of scenes, as two of the other three pieces I’ve seen by him involved similarly uncomfortable scenes with very similar (actually, identical) elements. So in the end I felt as if it had lived up to my main expectations. I think I’d recommend this one, but mainly to the specially interested; those who’re specially interested in film as an art form or as an experience, or in alternative horror, or in Asian films.