At the Cinema

Hello again. It’s movie review time.

These reviews are meant to jog my brain when I try to remember what I’ve seen and why I liked it or didn’t like it. If you hold similar opinions to my opinions you might want to check in and see what I think of a particular film before you see it. Or maybe you want to dispute my findings.

There is always the possibility of spoilers. If you haven’t seen The Village, you might not want to read my review below. (See the film if you like Shyamalan but I would rate it below his other recent films.)

Atanarjuat (Fast Runner)

Set in the Eastern Arctic region of Canada at the dawn of the first millennium, this is a beautiful and moving film. Read the legend the story is based on first or you’ll have a tough time figuring out what’s going on. When everyone’s bundled up in those beautiful parkas, it’s even difficult to figure out who is who.

The film won the Camera d’Or at Cannes for Best First Feature Film. The production company is 75% owned by Inuit.

The music is great and adds a lot to the ambiance. They have strived for a level of authenticity that American productions rarely bother with. Cast is Inuit and they speak Inuit and there are subtitles. It’s like a documentary on the life of ancient Inuit but with a great (and magical) story thrown in.

(Makes you wonder if an evil shaman didn’t visit the Bush tribe some time in the past.)

The Village
Latest film from M. Night Shyamalan (Signs, Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense), who both wrote and directed.

As with all of his films, the TV ads and movie trailers make it look like this is going to be really scary. It’s not. The premise is a village, possibly 1800s, surrounded by a wood that contains some kind of intelligent creatures (“those who we don’t speak of”) that let the villagers live in the village (a truce is mentioned) but won’t let them leave. Something then ticks off the creatures and they start to slaughter and skin small animals and leave the bodies lying around. They also paint red (the forbidden color) on the villagers’ doors.

OK. It’s a little scary.

Shyamalan usually incorporates some of the supernatural (or other-worldly as in signs) but not in this one. The terror is all created by humans who have a plan which is to keep Johnny (or Lucius played by Joaquin Phoenix) and all the other villagers on the farm and out of “the towns.” (There’s also an allusion to some kind of conspiracy as planes are routed around the wild life refuge where the village is located and where only animals are supposed to live.)

It’s a Utopian story with a twist (the creatures). It’s difficult to follow who is doing what and who knows what exactly. There’s a simple-minded boy (Noah played by Adrien Brody) who seems to know all the answers and he’s murdered by the blind girl (Ivy, played by Bryce Dallas Howard) who they send out to get the medicine from the towns to save Lucius who was seriously wounded by Noah who was jealous that Ivy was going to marry Lucius. There is a bit of the supernatural with blind Ivy who does see light around people (auras?) and makes her way around the village as well as the sighted folk.

It’s an interesting film with some good performances. I like Shymalan’s work and think him one of the better filmmakers around today, especially for big-budget stuff. Plus he writes his scripts.

But for me, Unbreakable is his best with Sixth Sense a close second. (I just added Unbreakable to my Netflix queue so I can see it again so watch for some blog talk here about it.)

Included on the DVD is a short film from Shymalan’s childhood days. He tries to find something to include that somehow relates to the main film. This one is an Indiana Jones take-off and I found it entertaining. Production values are very low and it looked like there was virtually no budget for special effects.

The Aviator
Much better than I thought it would be — way better. I enjoyed the story and Cate Blanchett was delightful as Hepburn.

With all historical film epics I have to wonder how much is really the truth. This film will become the popular interpretation of Howard Hughes. Did he really have a wall of milk bottles filled with urine in a dark room where he always had a film running and was always naked?

I assume he did hold (at least unofficially), the world speed record for an airplane but did he crash it in a beet field and then go directly to visit Katherine Hepburn who patched him up? I assume he did end up in a congressional hearing but how much of the on-screen dialogue was from the actual transcript of the hearing and how much spiced up for the cinema?

Films revise history for us – almost casually – and more in the interest of the story and not for political or moral ends. This bothers me.

Mystic Masseur
A sweet story of life and perseverance set in the Trinidad Indian community. A young man of learning must return to his village after his father, a masseur, dies. He wants to write books and takes up the massage business to provide food for the table. He’s not very good at it until he adds a bit of theatricality and mysticism.

His popularity grows to where he decides to run for political office. He wins, must leave the village to live in the big city, gets co-opted by the British colonial structure, loses his connection to the people, decides this isn’t for him and returns to the village.

It’s a well-told story with no deep currents to ponder. Om Puri plays a rascal of a father-in-law who is always trying to make a buck via the fame of his son-in-law.

The moral is that we must remain true to our roots.

I can live with that.


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