Friday, April 27, 2007

Movie review time

Perhaps in an attempt to forget that we cancelled our plans to go to Kyoto last weekend because of rain that never actually ended up materializing, Randal and I watched four movies last weekend, as well as another one last night. I'm no prolific movie reviewer (or movie watcher, for that matter), but thought I'd share my thoughts, scant as they are, on each one. And unlike certain bloggers, who like to make a sport of posting only reviews of movies they think are terrible,* I thought they were all quite good.

So without further ado, in the order of viewing, I give you:

The Corporation

I'd been wanting to see this for a while. Made in 2003, it is a Canadian-made documentary that traces the rise of the corporation from its origins as small, non-limited liability enterprises, to the large monoliths we know today. It was fascinating and depressing at the same time. I'd be curious to hear what a more business-y person thinks of it. The pacing and visuals are a little too snazzy and jarring at times, like a recent film school graduate wanting to show off a little bit, but overall the message is clear and well-presented. It really makes you think. And the guy from the Fraser Institute really makes you shudder. Well, made ME shudder at any rate.


One thing I miss about Ottawa (yes, it is possible) is going to see movies at the Bytowne. It plays rep and indy films, and lots and lots of documentaries. I remember when Murderball swung through in, I believe, the fall of 2005, Randal and I really wanted to see it but for some reason never made it. This oversight has now been corrected.

The documentary follows the lives of a number of members of the US paralympics team. "Murderball" is the original name for wheelchair rugby (which was apparently developed by Canadian quadriplegics). The US team members talk very openly about how their injuries happened, how they cope in life, what their sex lives are like, and how the game has helped/changed them. There is also a recently-injured young man, in rehab, whose struggles to adapt to life in a chair are shown. Finally, quite unlikeable and very disagreeable, there is the new coach of the Canadian team, himself a former American quad rugby champion.

This film was gripping from the very beginning. It pulls no punches, and is just fascinating. It's a real eye-opener into living life with a serious disability, without being preachy or sentimental. An excellent, excellent film.

Dawn of the Dead

Ahh, no movie marathon would be complete without at least one zombie movie. Now let me clarify: This was the recent 2004 remake, not the 1978 original which, so Randal tells me, is pretty terrible. However, it was also apparently pretty much the first movie of the zombie genre. So when dead people start not staying dead, and go around biting and killing other non-dead people, no one turns around and says, "Zombies! Easy! Shoot them in the head!"** It takes a while for them to figure that out.

This is such an enjoyable movie. There are a number of plot holes and weak points, but overall, it was just a real good watch. Sarah Polley (yes, that Sarah Polley) does a fine turn as Anna, the nurse who witnesses firsthand the horror when her neighbour's child takes a chunk out of her husband's aorta, and then he in turn refuses to remain dead and tries to have Anna for lunch as well. No longer will death us part, I guess.

For those of you who run in the other direction when a scary movie comes along, it's worth giving this one a chance. It's actually not scary. There are a few points where your heart may leap into your throat momentarily, but mostly it is a story of survival...against the most definitely undead. Despite its grim premise, the film does a good job of striking a fairly lighthearted tone much of the time (though not as happy-go-lucky as, say, Shaun of the Dead, also from 2004, which is fun to watch, though it bogs down about 2/3 of the way through).

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

More corporate exposure. I'm not hugely familiar with all the twists and turns and ins and outs of the Enron story (and I'm still not, even after having watched this documentary), but I'm sure we have all heard of Enron, and the basic outline of its long-lasting meteoric rise on Wall Street, and its spectacular crash-and-burn in December 2001.

I'm biased. I miss being able to regularly see programs like this. I love The Passionate Eye on CBC, and PBS documentaries.

Even if you're not overly interested in the Enron story itself, the sheer magnitude of the greed and misdemeanour involved will astound you. It was truly staggering, in particular, to learn that "Enron", the scandal, did not in any way stop with the guys at the top, whose names we heard daily while the investigation and subsequent criminal trials were ongoing (Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Andy Fastow), but that quite a number of the traders on the floor were also heavily involved in this culture of greed. It won't depress you like The Corporation, but it might make you just a wee bit ticked off that this sort of thing could even happen, and will probably happen again someday.

Pan's Labyrinth

Last, but certainly not least, is Pan's Labyrinth. This is a Spanish-Mexican co-production. Set in 1944, in fascist Spain, a young 9-year-old girl with a passion for fairy tales goes with her pregnant mother to live with her new stepfather who is a proud (and ruthless) captain in the Spanish army.

Don't rush out and rent it for the li'l kiddies. While it is a fairy-tale, it's more a fairy-tale for adults. You take what you want from it. Randal and I were left with a sense of unease at the amount of parallels too easily drawn to today's time - where obedience without question is often asked of citizens, and torture too often seen as a valid means to an end. What I liked the most about the movie is how it is unclear whether this is an imaginary world created by the girl in order that she may deal with the reality of her life, or whether this actually is part of the world, but an aspect that we as adults no longer recognize. It's not a perfect story: some of the characters are written fairly black-and-white, but others are shaded just enough that we're not quite sure whether to sympathize or scorn. The movie requires a bit of a leap of faith and suspension of disbelief in order to lose yourself in it, but it's certainly worth it.

* That being said, I cannot agree enough with his assessment of The Illusionist. I read his review before watching the movie. Yet I forgot about this, and watched it anyway. Well, that is to say, I watched it for about an hour, and then complained so bitterly about its awfulness that Randal in fact turned it off and refuses to this day to let me watch the rest of it (he'd already seen it and thought it was okay). Anyway, don't even get me started. I don't even like thinking about it. Watch The Prestige instead. Though the only thing the two films have in common is that they're about magicians, it is quite masterful, in my humble opinion, in every way that the other one was not.

** Like I did one day, a year or two ago, at my parents' place, while watching Randal play a videogame (I think it was "TimeSplitters") on the PS2, when suddenly these zombie-like characters started attacking him and he was having trouble felling them even with a massive sub-machine gun. Once he started shooting them in the noggin, they fell down like there was no tomorrow...and for them, this time, there finally wasn't. In fact, I'm sure this is the only reason why we are still together today - Randal knows that someday, if zombies start roaming the earth, I might just come in handy. So remember: Zombies. Head. Shoot. Good.


Mark Reynolds said...

Hey! Just saw 300 last night and was about to post a review. On the other hand, my thesaurus only has about 50-odd synonyms for "bad" so it will be a short one.

julie said...

Oh my! Randal watched 300 not so long ago and said there was no way he would ever subject me to it - terrible didn't even begin to describe it.

I love your reviews - keep 'em coming.