The Departed

[Screenshot]Ah, the exceedingly well-received film of 2006 which it took me forever to get around to seeing. The frame is sort of familiar, although the duality seemed wrong to me from the beginning: the police and organized crime aren’t really equal and opposed. So I felt kind of jarred by the whole mirror-image idea of the situation. I was also kind of unimpressed with the dodges by which both moles managed to evade the suspicion of anyone but each other, in groups rife with suspicion: that they got off so easy seemed one of the weak points in the build-up of the plot. It was a nice identity exploration: psychological but not too ham-handed, but at core another crime thriller. Quite good performances and an excellent setup, but, I dunno, seemed a bit empty in the end.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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Дневно́й дозо́р/Day Watch

[Screenshot]It had been a long time since I’d seen the movie before tihs one, so I’d forgotten a fair bit of the background. That’s unfortunate, because it really is the continuing story of the same characters: we left things unfinished between Anton, Svetlana, and Yegor at the end of Night Watch, and this picks right up from there. So it’d lose a first-time viewer, I’m afraid. It shares most of the strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor: stunning, imaginatively used visual effects, interesting interpersonal relationships, completely incomprehensible larger picture. If one tries to take all the nattering about Great Others and Fate in stride, one loses much of the plot but still has something fairly engrossing to watch. As I mentioned previously, the visual and special effects are the most stunning aspect of this film. Some of them are tedious thriller fare, like driving a luxury automobile on the side of a building, but some are truly breathtaking, like the images in the Gloom or Yegor’s odd, incomprehensively destructive toy. Apropos of Yegor, one of the most interesting visual effects in the film is achieved with nothing but costuming: Yegor the conflicted, tormented teen looks like a common scruffy street hood, but his representation as a pawn of the Dark in dapper clothing is chilling not least because he seems to lose about 7 years of age in the transition, becoming a freaky, sadistic child.

In conclusion, Day Watch is visually interesting, with some good things going on, but you have to be willin gto sit through the parts which are completely incomprehensible. And there are about three times as many of those if you haven’t seen Night Watch, so see that first.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Ratatouille

[Screenshot]It’s a Pixar film. We thus arrive with high hopes and certain expectations, and Ratatouille, by and large, does not disappoint. It’s taken a step back towards realism from the overtly carttony Cars: the designs in this film are made with an eye towards verisimillitude. The human figures are still, of course, obvious cartoons, but here they do good things with textures to bring realism to fur, food, and food-preparation equipment (fire, steam, and the like). They do some pretty good things with camera angles too: in frenetic action scenes the virtual camera swoops and follows inportant foci of the action more tightly and more quickly than Pixar’s dared to do in their previous films.

So, technically, it’s solid. As for the plot and acting, they’re light fluff, but they’re born of the bubbly sort of enthusiasm which makes a film a joy to watch no matter how insubstantial. It comes through that the scriptwriters really like food, Paris, and maybe even mice. It’s nice to see, almost as good as the technical prowess, that sort of unrestrained joy in their subject.

It won’t change your life or stick in your head powerfully, what with the puff-pastry storyline, but it’s an unambiguously enjoyable experience.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song

[Screenshot]This movie, alas, really has nothing at all going for it except for a certain bizarre historical significance. We can start with the insanely low production values, which skimp on things like lighting and sound to the point where the action and dialogue is nigh-impossible to follow. Not that I’m missing much, I guess. Half of the scenes involve the title character running, a quarter have him having extraordinarily unconvincing sex, and the remaining quarter are straight-up weird, like they accidentally spliced in one of the later reels of 2001 or Solaris. I guess it’s all supposed to be some sort of militant Black Pride statement, but it’s seriously buried under a ton of irreleventia. If you cut it down to the few scenes of Sweetback actually beating up cops and talking to radical preachers and the like, I could see that, but where does the cross-dressing floor show or the sex-battle with the Hell’s Angels come in? So bizarre, so badly scripted, and so low-budget. This one actually sucks pretty hard.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

美鳥の日々/Midori Days, episodes 1–5

[Screenshot]Midori Days is a story of a teenaged boy whose right hand has been replaced with an overenthusiatstic girl who’s infatuated with him. It’s a comedy with sex-farce elements. In light of this contrivance, it makes a rather heroic effort, mostly successful, to get through five episodes without an overt masturbation joke. In a way, the avoidance seems a bit gimmicky. I’d just as soon someone made the obvious joke so we can get on with things.

Once we get past the absurd premise, a lot of the actual plot elements in this reminded me a bit of Chobits, in that most of the events involve a teenager with an inconvenient and difficult to explain hanger-on dodging humiliation. Seiji gets a bit of a different take on this by being the thug-with-a-heart-of-gold type, but despite the mix-and-match, a lot of the individual elements in this seem awfully timeworn. Nonetheless, this show has promise. It’s well-acted (in both dubs) and competently drawn, and there are some pretty interesting interplays between Seiji and the various others in his life which do more than the usual series tries to draw out and explore his delinquincy. I’ll probably watch more at some point.

See also: Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei

[Screenshot]This one is storywise good, and shows competent cinemacraft. Where it bugs me is ideology.

Let’s start with the acting, and the straightforward aspects of the film. The central four actors emote well and do a great job with what they’re given. I didn’t know of them before now, but I’m not well-versed in German films, so I can’t be surprised. Nonetheless, they’re good at what they do, and they’re given a pretty decent script to follow (at least as far as I can tell from translation).

So, on to ideology. This film has a distinctly sympathetic viewpoint, and it wants us to sympathize with Jan and Jule (and, to a lesser extent, Peter). The problem is that their attitudes are completely idiotic. They’re angry, and justifiably, but their anger isn’t directed towards any constructive sort of change. They have no real agenda. This seems to fly with some crowd, based on how many hogh-school anarchists there are around, but it doesn’t really work to tear down a system unless you actually have a reason to believe you can improve it. Hardenberg, whose viewpoint is not sympathetically presented, explicitly asks them what they mean to accomplish. They don’t really have an answer, and as far as I can tell nobody involved with the film had a problem with that. They probably should have.

I’m just kind of bugged that we have a tailor-made conflict which could really illuminate the purposes of revolution. We have a lot of dialogue between the battle-scarred, cynical ex-revolutionary and the young purposeless idealists. There’s room for these ideas to meet in the middle gloriously. Instead, we get an epilogue which firmly establishes the rule of the day: starry-eyed idealism without goals makes you a hero, realistic resignation makes you a villain.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Stardust

[Screenshot]I first ignored this one on an airplane, which reminded me I should probably see it, because I was charmed by Gaiman’s novel (and no less by Vess’s illustrations; people who read the mass-market paperback are missing out). Interesting comics (and I think of this as essentially a comic: it was designed as text alongside pictures, and Charles Vess is credited as a co-creator), it seems, rarely make interesting films, so I girded my loins for disappointment when I actually watched the movie.

To my surprise, it wasn’t bad. Not quite as excellent as the novel: Gaiman drew an excellent contrast between the mundane and the fantastic which is blurred and muddled in this film, but it overall stuck well enough to the elements that made the novel good, and hedged the script not overmuch, and even pulled comparatively few punches in the darker elements (which is always a danger, since there’s a presumption that a charming fairy fantasy is targeted at children). In fact, it’s maybe too faithful: a novel is a bit long to be retold accurately in cinema, and trimming in a couple places might have made it feel a bit more tautly paced. At times it seemed to be dragging its feet.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.