Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I saw Babel this weekend. As some critics are saying, it's the Crash of 2006. You know, so many story lines, so little time, no matter how long the stretch out the running time. That's not to say Babel is bad. Babel is great. My only complaint is... well, it's kind of two-fold, or a one-or-the-other proposition. Either they should have extended the running time to three hours, or they should have cut two of the stories.

I mean, I get it, we're all connected. That's great. It's nice to know that my actions will somehow effect some untouchable in India (nothing like that happened in the movie, but you get the point). Anyway, the story is pretty basic: Two Morrocan boys fire a rifle into the air, hit an American woman on a tour bus, causing an international incident. Meanwhile, the Americans' young kids are heading to Mexico with their nanny to see the nanny's son get married. And in Japan, a deaf-mute teen girl is acting out against her father. That connection isn't as clear at first until we see a badly photoshopped photograph of the deaf-mute's father on a hunting trip in Morroco. I say it's badly photoshopped because it is, though it's not supposed to be. It's not a clue in a mystery, it's just bad production values, which was rather surprising to me.

Anyway, I'm picking on Babel a little here, because it got the Oscar nod over Children of Men, which is a superior movie in my mind. However, that's like saying something that scored a 10 is superior to something that got a 9.85. While true, it's not much of a difference.

Oh, and the other thing I wasn't too keen on in Babel was how quickly they cut from one scene to the other. Just when things got interesting, they would cut from one scene to the next. Just when I'm getting into the scene, or I feel like I'm learning something about the character, we're off to another part of the world. And that's why I think it either needed a longer running time, or it needed to kill two of the stories. I knew I'd get around to writing that eventually.

See, the pace was excellent, because Babel is a pretty long movie to begin with. And it moves fast. And toward the end, we do stick around with the characters. But still.

Nevertheless, go see this in a theater. It's worth your money.

And again, 2006 was a great year for Mexican filmmakers.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I finished Hannibal Rising the other day. If you want Hannibal Lecter to remain a mystery, skip it. Then again, I'm still not sure why he became a cannibal in the end. It's not like he was showing the signs of serial killing or whatever when he was a child. And it seemed to me that there was more motivation for him to actually not be a cannibal than for him to take it up, even as a hobby. Nevertheless, I'll probably still see the movie.

I read some more of The Brothers Karamazov, and by more, I mean another chapter. The scene is still at the church where the Karamozov family is meeting with the church's elder. While waiting for the eldest brother, middle child Ivan has a discussion with the priests about the separation of church and state. What I gathered by the end is that he believes that the church should be held as the highest standard in terms of moral and personal governance, and the state should try to attain that standard. The church should lead by example, and the state should follow it.

This is all well and good. But I know now that Dostoyevsky was getting paid by the word, because there's no way anyone would stand for this shit in any other novel.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I saw Pan's Labyrinth over the weekend. It was great. You should see it. The Mexican directors had a great year in 2006 apparently, though I haven't seen Babel, (the other Mexican directed film being, of course Children of Men). So I'm thinking maybe I should just do the trifecta and see Babel and get it over with.

Anyway, back to Pan's Labyrinth. Oh, and there will be spoilers ahead, so stop reading now if you don't want to be, well, spoiled. Okay, while I preferred Children this is defintely worth your time, your dime, and your effort. Pan's is a fairy tale through and through. The story is basic, a young girl, Ofelia, is going with her pregnant mother to live with her stepfather, a captain in Franco's fascist army in late 1930s Spain. While there, Ofelia learns her stepfather is a pretty rotten bastard. First fairy tale trope - evil step parent - check!

You know how in Disney movies, they always have the friendly, helpful servants? Pan's Labyrinth has them, too! Except they're allied with the communists hiding in the hills! So we have another fairy tale thingee going on here.

The list goes on. And that's before we actually get into all the creatures, like the Pale Man, the Faun, the fairies, and so on. It's a basic story, but there's a lot of question as to what's going on here. Is Ofelia really seeing the Faun? Is she really a princess? Is she just crazy? I think she's just dealing with the fact that her father has died - hey, another fairy tale trope! - and her mother settled for a real dickhead of a new husband. And if that means she's seeing fantastical creatures, more power to her.

Because in the end, not only is there a strong story here, it's beautiful to watch. The Faun, the Pale Man, the fairies are all wonders to behold. While I loved Del Torro's Hellboy it seems to me that his more personal stories - like The Devil's Backbone and this - are the better films.

Next up, Babel, Tears of the Black Tiger, and god only knows what else.

Friday, January 12, 2007

I saw Children of Men last week. This is the best movie of 2006 in my opinion, and I saw Brick, Hard Candy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Men is less of a trick pony than Brick and Vengeance, and it didn't make me nauseous like Hard Candy (though it was the best bout of nausea I ever had).

I won't go into details about it, but there's a sequence in Men - one long shot - that follows Clive Owen as he runs for point A to point B that's worth the price of admission alone. Just the technical aspects of getting that shot must have been boggling, and the fact is, I felt like I was right behind Clive as he made the run.

But this weekend is a long weekend, and I intend to make the most of it. I'm definitely going to see Pan's Labyrinth, but I'm also tempted to see Tears of the Black Tiger, the trailer for which you can download here. It's a Thai Western, and it looks like it was actually shot in the 50s, though it was shot in 2000. It's out in New York this weekend, and I'm really thinking of catching it on Monday. I get that day off, and what the hell am I going to do that day, right?
Dostoyevsky has this thing about going nowhere slow. For two chapters - that's about 15 pages - this religious elder has been tending to his flock. Basically he's been talking to a bunch of women (it's specifically women, but I get the impression that it could have been anyone) about their travails.

I'm about 70 pages through this book, and it's taken Dostoyevsky that long to truly start the action. Now that the elder is back talking to the Karamozov father and son Ivan, we're getting into a discussion on the separation of Church and state. Ivan is all for the combination of Church and state it seems. That's as far as I've gotten into this little conversation. I'll get into his argument after I read it more fully.

But let me just write this: It's taken 70 pages to get this heap moving, and we're still sputtering along. I read somewhere that Sigmund Freud thought this was the greatest book ever. Someone should dig up Siggy and beat the dead shit out of his body (it would be difficult to beat the living shit out of it).

Dostoyevsky's got 30 pages to pick up the speed and start telling his story. Otherwise, this bitch is over.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road over the holiday. It's shown up on a few best-of-2006 lists, and I can kind of see why. The thing is, it's a pretty loose book, not much happens, though it's a lovely read. And it has an unhappy ending, so it's par for the course for me.

The story - such as it is - is about a man and his son (no names, just "the man" and "the boy") who wander a post-nuclear wasteland. I'm guessing post-nuclear, because there are references to explosions, and burnt out cities. There's nothing explicit, though, and the holocaust could have been anything. But that doesn't hurt the book, and instead makes it eerier. Nothing is alive, it seems, except for a few human beings. No animals populate this book, and it seems the only plant left is grass, and even then I had doubts (there's only one explicit mention of grass, and it's in passing).

The man and boy see horrible things in their travels - cannibalism, murder, disease, and so on - and can do very little about it. The man carries a revolver with two or three bullets. When he leaves the boy alone, he tells the boy how to commit suicide, you know, just in case cannibals attack.

My one reservation is that as great as the writing is in this book, there is no story. The man and boy wander around for a while. Sometimes they're hungry, other times, they find food. Sometimes they see horrible things, usually they don't. The man is sick. The boy is malnourished. That's about it.

This is all written in beautiful prose, but since I left the book at my parents' house, you're not going to get to read any of it here. I would say you could see where this story is going, but since there's no real story of which to speak, there's not much to forsee. The man is sick. What do you think happens? The boy knows what to do with the pistol in case cannibals show up. What do you think happens? I'd say read it to find out. But either wait for the paper back, or get it out of your local library.

And yes, it has a depressing ending, just in case you were wondering.