Holiday Movies

A quickie.

I saw three movies this week, Blood Diamond, The Good Shepherd and Apocalypto. I only saw Apocalypto because it was the only thing that fit with our schedule yesterday. Predictably, it was your usual Mel Gibson fare – endless violence, unnecessary gore and men in loin cloths being beaten, maimed, sliced and battered into bloody pulps. Like The Passion, it was technically superb – great cinematography and soundtrack, and tight editing and direction that keeps you riveted, if somewhat disgusted. A few times I simply laughed out loud at the frivolous mayhem. It’s not enough to show a man’s head split open with a primitive weapon. No; Gibson has to show us the blood spraying upward and outward like Old Faithful for a full 30 seconds. We see a very busy executioner lopping off the heads of captured indians and hurtling them down the steps of a pyramid as if they were discarded cabbages. The camera follows the heads as they bounce down in a ghastly ballet. Once was enough to get the point here, but Gibson has to milk the mayhem for maximum effect for as long as he can get away with it. We get to see at least three separate beheadings and rolling heads, and, as an added bonus, we get to watch two men having their hearts ripped out of their bodies; the men gape in horror at their own hearts beating in the executioner’s bloody hand. The hero, just like the hero of The Passion, withstands hideous injuries that no human being could possibly endure. At one point a spear plunges through his back , half of it popping out his chest. But not to worry; the hero puts a determined look on his face and with a deft flick of the wrist he pulls the spear out of his body, blithely tosses it aside and keeps on running. The same when an arrow slices through his shoulder. It makes no difference; like the Eveready bunny he just he keeps going, killing off the enemy all along the way. See it for the silly fun of it – but think of it as a comedy and little else. It’s the only way to keep from getting seriously disturbed by Gibson’s grisly obsession with torture, suffering, bloody entrails and death.

Blood Diamond. Leonardo Dicaprio proves once more that he is the greatest young actor of our times in a film that is as intelligent as Apocalypto is depraved. The thrills come quick and furious, and yet the action is never frivolous or unnecessary. This is an edge-of-the-seat thriller with a very serious message and magnificent performances. I haven’t been so mesmerized by a film in a long time. Don’t miss it.

Last of all is The Good Shepherd, which in its own way is as engaging as Blood Diamond, though it is no thriller. It is a grim, dark and thoroughly depressing examination of what the CIA is, how it came to be and how it works. I loved every moment of it, though it was a trial to sit through. There is no comic relief, no moment of lightness, no jokes. Indeed, not a single character in the entire movie is likable – each is despicable in his own unique way. I love my country but I am aware of its many mistakes and injustices. One of the things I love most about America is that we are free to make movies like this chronicling some of our government’s ugliest chapters. Sometimes, we can even hold the perpetrators to account. I hate that the issue at hand – the dangers of a CIA that answers to no one and sees itself as a god – has worsened under the current administration, but I am still very happy that we can discuss these things and make popular movies about them and blog about them. I respect the fact that we learn about the CIA’s connivance in Chile and Guatemala in college, and that the truth in America so often comes to the surface. Still, there’s a lot about out government not to like, and a lot of people have no idea what the CIA’s sordid story is. They, and everyone else in America and on the planet, should see The Good Shepherd. It’s a great movie.

Okay, back to my race to pack my things and get ready for the big trip tomorrow afternoon. There may be an opportunity for one more post before i go to the airport if I don’t keel over from stress. After that, there will probably be precious little for several days as I gather my things in Taipei and then get set up in Beijing.

Update: Damn, how could I forget?? I also saw The Queen last week, a movie I was expecting to be bored by. Instead, i was thoroughly entertained, enchanted and absorbed. Presuming that the script is a true representation of actual events, I had no idea of how nobly the newly elected Tony Blair rose to the occasion of dealing with Diana’s death. He, as well as the queen herself, emerge as true heroes at the end of this film (though Prince Philip does not). This was another thinking man’s movie, poignant and intelligent and subtle, enhanced by performances that should win some major awards. Throughout, I couldn’t help but wonder how Blair let himself get suckered by a smaller, less experienced leader, thus ensuring his political ruin. By hitching his star to Iraq, Blair destroyed his career and reputation, and robbed his people of a prime minister who showed incredible promise and skill. Iraq is like the plague, infecting everything and everyone it touches. What a tragedy, and how foolish of Blair to keep standing up for it. See The Queen, and remember how splendid a job Blair did before embracing the tar baby of Iraq. Remember, and weep.

The Discussion: 5 Comments

I saw Zhang Yimou’s “Curse of the Golden Flower.” Sort of between his smaller dramas and the more recent big spectacles, but in a way, the film of his that it reminded me the most of was JU DOU in that it’s about a very dysfunctional family and how their dysfunction has way too much effect on the people around them because of a corrupt society.

I liked CURSE better than HERO for the record. There’s an amazing scene after this very bloody battle in the palace where all the servants come up and cover up the blood and make it beautiful again. The evocation of That Square and the Unfortunate Incident could not have been clearer.

January 3, 2007 @ 3:26 pm | Comment

I’ll have to see it Lisa – needless to say, it’s not playing here in Phoenix.

January 3, 2007 @ 3:47 pm | Comment

Thanks for good movie review. Will watch two; will skip two.

I agree, Dicaprio is a good actor.

January 4, 2007 @ 10:02 am | Comment

I wrote a review of Curse on my blog — was fairly unimpressed by it, I must say, Gong Li’s boobs notwithstanding.

Did anybody else see Babel? I went to see it last week after hearing really good things from people whose opinions I used to trust, and left the theater feeling like I’d just seen the biggest pricktease of a movie ever: it’s beautifully shot, competently written, well acted…and none of it has any discernible point, beyond either the facile (“We should all communicate more”) or the risible (“guns are bad,” “don’t drink and drive,” “dude, it totally sucks to be a poor Moroccan goatherd”). It’s been tormenting me ever since, because something so clearly well-made, well thought-out, and well-performed – something on which a lot of money, time, talent, and ingenuity has been lavished (the last shot of the movie is technically amazing – I can’t figure out how they did it) – cannot possibly be as pointless as the movie ultimately seemed to be.

If we’re recommending recent Chinese flicks, I’d give a shout-out to 疯狂的石头 (Crazy Stone, though Stone Crazy would probably be a better title). It’s a slickly shot, cleverly written, seriously funny heist flick, and the people who made it – beyond clearly having studied their Guy Ritchie – display that rarity of rarities within the Chinese film world, an actual sense of pacing. Even cooler: it’s all shot in dialect: the flunkies speak in low-class Chongqing dialect, the brains of the operation has what sounds to me like a Tangshan accent, the international cat burglar from Hong Kong speaks Cantonese-accented Mandarin. The English subs on the version I saw were well-translated, too, so there’s no reason not to check it out if you get the chance.

January 5, 2007 @ 1:52 pm | Comment

Oh, I avoided BABEL. It had “really pretentious” all over it.

I wondered about those Tang Dynasty Wonderbras myself…

January 5, 2007 @ 4:12 pm | Comment

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