Sunday, July 31, 2005

Movies, Movies, Movies

A Very Long Engagement - Oh, hell yes. Right at the start, one of the greatest opening shots of a movie, ever: The camera, overlooking a trench during WWI, pans down to reveal a piece of wood. A disembodied arm hangs from the wood, and as the camera pans down further, we realize that the arm is not, as we may have thought, the severed arm of a soldier, but rather the arm of the shattered sculpture of Christ that once adorned this broken crucifix.

This is one of those movies that makes you glad motion pictures were invented. As with Jeunet's earlier film, Amélie, one of the interesting things about this is the way it doesn't telegraph the ending. Throughout most of the film, the two possible outcomes of the story, "Mathilde learns Manech is dead" or "Mathilde learns Manech is alive", seem equally likely to come to pass. We, the audience, hope along with her that he lives, but it is truly hope, not a bland confidence that All Will Be Well; a dream, not an expectation. Each possibility could function in the story, each would make sense, each would even satisfy the audience, and so it becomes impossible to predict what she will ultimately find.

But that's only one of the interesting things about the film, and there are many. The way the story of what happened in that trench is pieced together, gradually. The scenes of trench warfare that do for WWI what Saving Private Ryan did for WWII. Indelible images, such as the soldiers emerging from a burning cornfield, their cartridge-boxes exploding like fireworks. Magnifique.

One side note, to prevent you from being distracted by wondering, "Hey, isn't that...?" when one character is introduced: Yes, that is Jodie Foster, even though you've never heard her mentioned in any of the publicity for the film, and her name isn't even on the DVD packaging. Apparently she was in Paris dubbing her own performance in Panic Room into French, and contacted Jeunet expressing a desire to perform a role in French.

Batman Begins - Best Batman Movie Ever. This demonstrates rather clearly the difference between handing your franchise to an uneven-at-best director like Joel Schumacher, and handing it to a talent like Tim Burton or, in this case, Christopher Nolan. Not to neglect the cast: Every last one of them is great, but let me just specifically mention that Gary Oldman is absolutely perfect as the young Jim Gordon.

Let me also say how happy I am that the film basically proceeds from the assumption that none of the previous Batman films ever happened, nor ever will happen, to this Batman. In movies (and comic books, for that matter), there is often a reluctance to allow even iconic/archetypal characters to "exist" in multiple, unrelated versions/interpretations. But I like the idea that different filmmakers could be allowed to put their own personal "stamp" on a character, without having to worry about "continuity" with earlier movies made by different people. I like living in a world where Silence of the Lambs made no attempt at all to connect to Manhunter (even though they did feel the need to "fix" it later by making Red Dragon). Part of me wishes the upcoming Superman Returns wasn't using footage of Brando as Jor-El.

Cannibal: The Musical - Early Trey Parker/Matt Stone opus. Somewhat more Pythonesque in many places than their later work. Not as good as South Park or Team America, though certainly, there are signs of Parker's genius already in place - the tribe of "Indians" particularly had me doubled over with laughter. Not a Great Film, by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly well worth seeing, especially for Parker/Stone fans like myself.


Chameleon said...

Interestingly enough, one of my friends, AS, a major fan of Batman (it pained her to inform me that in spite of being a devotee of George Clooney that the celluloid entertainment in which he appeared as the caped crusader was the worst ever and she loathed it with a passion) was also full of praise for Batman Begins. She contrasted it with the Fantastic Four, although there was no real competition between the two films in her estimation, as she walked out of the latter after the first twenty minutes or so (she has a very low tolerance level for dross and is not shy about expressing it). Of all comic books/graphic novels (an art form for which the Belgians claim parentage - they have a museum dedicated to bandes dessinées, forgive my spelling, although personally I have always thought of them as quintessentially American) I admit to having a soft spot for the Fantastic Four, the only example of the genre apart from the likes of Outer Limits with short, creepy, self-contained stories that I occasionally spent some of my pocket money on during long childhood summer holidays forcibly wrenched away from the television set where the only form of indoor amusement was reading or jigsaw puzzles. I was fascinated by the Thing and, let's face it, the prospect of a lithe but muscular Ioan Gruffudd in a skin tight suit was always going to be my primary motivation to part with some cash in exchange for temporary occupancy of a cinema seat. AS and yourself combined have persuaded me that I would derive greater pleasure (beyond the sexual frisson) from witnessing the birth of the Dark Knight, for which thanks.

Salvius said...

Hmmm, the Fantastic Four is also the only comic book my girlfriend followed as a young lass. I wonder if it held some particular appeal for girls for some reason? Well, girls that passed up the exciting adventures of "Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane", anyway.