Monday, 5 April 2010

What I've Been Watching: Cinema

BBB07D0F-FC3A-4E6B-8A1F-F63363F46070.jpgShutter Island
Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?

Scorsese is a director known for hard-hitting films that never stray far from violence. In many ways, Shutter Island lives up to this reputation. The main character, Teddy, in his determination to find out the truth about what's happening on the island, won't let anyone get in his way. He is a man filled with regret and anger.

Part of this anger comes from losing his wife, who frequently appears to him in dreams as the movie continues. I've mentioned before that I don't especially like movies with mysteries. And Shutter Island's weakest point is undoubtedly this element. In fact, the obviousness of the 'twist' here, leads me to wonder whether Scorsese wanted us to consider the other, stronger elements of the narrative.

Those elements deal with the reaction of war - Teddy is harbouring guilt over an act committed towards defenceless NAZI soldiers. Part of this delves into the nature of memory: and whether it is better to deal with things that have happened or try to repress them completely.

The superbly ambiguous nature of the protagonist's choice at the end of the movie, in addition to the underlying themes give the movie a depth which can be easily missed. In fact, I wonder how much better it would have been if the audience knew the twist from the beginning and were left to ask the interesting questions the story raises from the start. I also wonder if this is a movie, like Polanski's Chinatown that may hold up very well on repeat viewings, as the true story is allowed to take precedence over the fairly unambitious mystery elements.

7E382CFC-095F-412C-A082-CFB62CFAAA3D.jpgGreen Zone
Don't be so naive

Movies about the times we live in are always difficult to make. Whether they're an accurate representation or not can surely only be judged a few more years down the line. For example, Wall Street, with its tagline "Greed is Good" stands up not only as a depiction of the 80s, but also as the philosophy which led to The Great Recession we now find ourselves in.

You see Green Zone has been widely slated by critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 54%. Given that Greengrass' other four movies all get 80%+ on the same site, one has to question how a director could fail to woo the critics so spectacularly?

Technically, this film is just as spectacular as the others. Greengrass' now trademark 'shaky-cam' continues to be used with prowess, as always giving you a sense of being there right among the action. The opening scene with a sniper, and the closing chase scene, sit comfortably alongside the best of Bourne.

Nevertheless, in Bloody Sunday, United 93 and Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum, the director brought us somewhere we had never been before. Whether the streets of Derry on that infamous day; a plane on 9/11; or in the shoes of a rogue CIA agent, each was a unique experience that felt very different to anything we had seen on screen before.

The Iraq War, however, is a different beast altogether. I think it's fair to say this has been the most widely covered war ever. News crews have been on the ground since day zero, we've known every operation, every strategy, and in time, every lie. So creating a fictionalised tale about the real events of the war seems a little superfluous. Regardless of the truth of the more unlikely events in the movie, we are left questioning them because we know so much.

In addition the clear message of the movie: "there were never any WMDs" is much like making a film about Tiger Woods with the message "he had lots of affairs". i.e. Entirely Pointless. For me the interesting thing will be to see how this movie is looked back upon in ten/twenty years time. Will it be seen as the definitive account of this generation's Vietnam? Or will movies like The Hurt Locker or The Valley of Elah be used to sum up the most significant of wars this generation.

3F6738A6-3CFC-42CA-9501-0E65DF49BD4E.jpgHow To Train Your Dragon
What are you going to do now?
Something Crazy!

Another week, another 3D film. The more I see them, the more I agree with Mark Kermode's view that it's a gimmick. After a few minutes, I'd forgotten about the extra dimension before me. Instead I was left captivated by a simple, but surprisingly effective tale about a boy and his dragon. Maybe 3-D should just be used for movies that would otherwise bore the viewer.

Among the remarkable things about this Dreamworks animation is the cinematography, and in particular the opening scene. As the movie opens the camera sweeps through the small town our hero 'Hiccup' inhabits, and introduces us to all of the characters we'll be spending the next 90+ minutes with. As he's making the introductions, the town's being attacked my dragons. The energy and low, shaky camera reminded me a lot of one of the best opening scenes of all time: Saving Private Ryan.

Aside from this 'live-action' cinematography, the film itself kept me engaged throughout. It felt fresh and new, with great dialogue, pacing and had a well-fleshed out message about understanding those different from us. Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay How to Train your Dragon is that if someone told Pixar had made it, I wouldn't have blinked an eyelid.

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