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My Week(s) in Movies (2/27 — 3/12)

March 12, 2011

I meant to take the first part of this year off from work, get some of my own projects further along, and write more here in the blog. But in early Feb. a coworker of mine from a few years back called me out of the blue and told me there was a 3D conversion going on, looking for compers and working in Nuke, with which I have been wanting to get some on-the-job experience. So, I took the job, and it’s been 10 hour days, 6 days a week, and now heading into crunch time it’s gonna be 12 hour days, 6 days a week, and 8 hours on the 7th.

Best laid plans and all that. All that to say that My Week In Movies is definitely going to be biweekly for a while. Even then it may be slim pickins, as it is this week:

THE EAGLE — The pithy way of putting it is “GLADIATOR for the TWILIGHT set,” but that is a little unfair to EAGLE, which is not trying to be a romantic drama, as there are no women in the film at all — although given that, making it a romance would have made it much more interesting (to me at least). During the Roman conquest of England, a Roman battalion carrying the Roman standard — an eagle cast in gold — was lost in the Northern territories. The son of the man who was leading that battalion has since had to endure endless impugnments of his father’s competence and/or courage, and is desperate to retrieve the eagle from the territories north of Hadrian’s Wall — which the Romans effectively gave up as hopeless — and reclaim his family’s honor.

Also he takes his slave with him, because his slave is from those territories. Naturally that goes well.

Anyway, you can guess the rest of the story. They hate each other and there’s some moments when you think one is betraying the other, but they’re not, but are they, and they become friends and come to respect each other and I’m putting myself to sleep just writing this. It’s a boilerplate allegory about overcoming racial prejudice with white people in all the roles.

It’s reasonably well made and has some pretty good performances (including a turn from my actor mancrush Mark Strong), but it suffers from an awful script. It takes 40 minutes for the story to actually get rolling, and the way the Ancient Romans speak is laughably 21st-century American, both in dialect and turns of phrase. If one is feeling charitable, we could maybe go with the idea that the filmmakers are portraying the Romans as the Americans of their time, boorish despite their privileged and extravagant culture, a criticism and questioning of imperialist attitudes about “civilized” and “savage.” But I’m pretty sure it’s just bad writing and the lack of a dialogue coach.

By the way, I actually saw this a month ago, when it came out, and completely forgot I’d done so when it came time to write the MWIM post for that period. That probably says everything you need to know.

THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE* — Of Guillermo del Toro’s work, this is probably my favorite. There are shades of later works in his wheelhouse. It’s very similar to THE ORPHANAGE (which he only put his name on to help it get released, but I can see why it appealed to him) and PAN’S LABYRINTH (which he apparently considers the companion piece to this one, which I can certainly see). A solid little ghost story, though once he finally reveals the ghost I think he over-shows it, at least while we’re still supposed to still be frightened of it.

I don’t actually know what the Devil’s Backbone has to do with the story. I know it’s explained what it is, I don’t get how it relates to the rest of the stuff. Maybe it’s that it’s something that people have created a fearful superstition around just because they don’t understand it, and the same goes for ghosts? That’s all I’ve got. Decent flick though.

THE CAT RETURNS — A classic of the fanciful (rather than dystopic) school of anime. A young girl saves the life of a cat who turns out to be the Prince of Cats, and she is kidnapped to the Kingdom of Cats to be married to him. Feels very much like a classic Grimm-type fairy tale, executed with the idiosyncrasies of the culture (there are moments of silliness that I think are out of place, but I see stuff like it so often in this type of anime that I have to assume it works over there).

The version I saw was dubbed into English by various celebrities, and suffered a bit from having cast said celebrities rather than more experienced voice actors. It takes a special alchemy to take the various vocal tracks — almost always with each actor recorded completely in isolation from the others — and make them sound like the characters are all present in the same space. That alchemy was just not present in this film. Still, a fun little diversion.

ONE NATION UNDER GOD* — Netflix describes the film as an exploration of the ex-gay curative therapy movement, but it frankly barely touches on that other than that two of the primary interviewees were the co-founders of Exodus International, the pre-eminent ex-gay Christian ministry. Then they fell in love with each other, left the organization, and devoted themselves to publicly denouncing curative therapy.

Released in 1993 — three years before the enactment of the Defense of Marriage Act — the film is actually more an exploration of the historical treatment (social more than medical) of homosexuality, the burgeoning pro-gay movement, and the Christian right-wing’s reactionary anti-gay movement. It’s almost a cultural time-capsule, and it’s interesting to see how things used to be worse for the gay community than they are now, but also to see how in some ways things are worse now than they were in 1993. The movie set out to document the extreme right-wing backlash to pro-gay activism, but it’s almost quaint to look back now, 18 years later (agh), and know that the backlash had not even yet begun.

I do have a couple more posts to make before I go under on this project — a latecomer’s post regarding Universal’s cancelling del Toro’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, and a review of the Hunger Games books — so look for those in the next couple days.

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