20 April 2009

Movie and live show reviews

Well, I've been a bit remiss here and haven't posted for a while -- partly because my wrists are sore, and I'm trying to give them a break from so much typing, and partly because it's been school holidays, and I've been busy editing a book for a small press publisher, leaving my kids to take over this computer.

I have seen a number of movies in the last couple of weeks and one live show, so I thought it might be good to review them here, as much to sort out my own thoughts as a writer, which is how I always look at things now. It's been a spec fic bonanza for me, as three of the five films have been spec fic, and so, I guess, has the live show. Perhaps I'll start with that.

Wicked is the prequel to The wizard of Oz, and tells the story of how the Wicked Witch of the East and Glinda the Good met, and of course subverts all the well-established conventions of just who the good gal is. I loved this show: it's big, bright and boisterous, though I could've done without Glinda's whiny stage voice (part of her character, not the actress playing her -- I did love her one truly operatic moment, however). 

But I have to say I thought there was a little too much subversion -- it's rather like reading The mists of Avalon and comparing it to every other book on the Arthurian legend. Or seeing how Sara Douglass reworked her characters in her second trilogy of the Axis series. In the case of Wicked, I was happy to have things changed around -- and, after all, that adds to the story's freshness -- but I'd like more shading, more darkness in Elphaba's character. After all, she made a truly terrifying antagonist in The wizard of Oz, and I came away from Wicked finding it difficult to reconcile the two. Glinda's character was easier. 

But, for all of that, it's a satisfying story and entertaining. We bought the soundtrack afterwards, and my daughter seems to have it on a permanent loop! My favourite song is "For good", though I wonder if I'm biased because my daughter and one of her Victorian State Singer friends were singing this together for a performance that never eventuated. It's a beautiful song, heartfelt and moving. But my daughter seems to have settled on the more uplifting "Defying gravity". Well worth a listen, and worth seeing. (The soundtrack and the show, that is.)

The reader is a story of seduction and its consequences -- a young boy is seduced by an older woman who later abandons him, and then, at a Nazi war criminal trial, he learns more about her than he ever wished to know. 

I wish I had taken my kids to this film. After the movie, we could have sat down and had an in-depth discussion about morality and ethics, the type of discussion I love to have with them. On the other hand, the first half of the film is so steamy that I'm sure I would've been squirming in my seat had they been there: my son would have been leaning forward in his seat to make sure he never missed a second, and my daughter making gagging motions behind her hand. 

This is a deep and complex film: slow moving but compelling. Kate Winslet is a stupendous actress and at the top of her form here; she is mesmerising on screen, beautiful and ugly at the same time: a terrific performance. The reader is a movie I'm still thinking about -- on many levels -- and will be awhile yet. It's one I'll have to buy and watch with my kids later -- when they're older, perhaps, so I can have that discussion I so want to have. This is must-see cinema.

Race to Witch Mountain is an action film on steroids. It's go-go-go with barely a breather anywhere. The action starts right at the beginning and never lets up, which makes for breathless viewing. That's great if you like this kind of movie (and I do), but not so much if you want something deeper. This wasn't a film that left me thinking. Plot -- two aliens, being chased by the government, co-opt the help of a taxi driver in their endeavours to return to their crashed spaceship and escape. It's a fun film for kids and those who love an action movie. (And funnily enough, there was a reference to The wizard of Oz in this one.)

Inkheart is the story of a man who can read characters out of books (can I borrow him?), and the consequences. I must say that having seen the trailers for this film, I thought part of the story involved our real-life characters entering into the world of the book -- that there was some kind of portal that they crossed, but that wasn't the case at all. Rather, the characters who had come out of the book brought their own little world to life in the real world. While this made more logical sense, given the film's premise, I was disappointed as I wanted to see the real-life characters enter the world of the book, giving this world a larger canvas. Perhaps that's just my own thwarted desires as a writer coming to the fore. And I did spend part of the film wondering what would happen if I were able to meet my characters, but I've already explored such things in a short story I started once about where book characters go after a reader finishes reading them. 

Aside from my expectations, which is not the fault of the writers but whoever made the trailers (and this isn't nearly as bad as it is for the comedy film you go to see and realise you've seen every funny gag already in the trailer!), I found this film both fun and interesting. It was meatier than Race to Witch Mountain, but had enough action to satisfy those who like a fast pace. (And it too contained a Wizard of Oz reference -- they seem to be following me.) Well worth a watch.

Knowing is the story of a mathematician who "inherits" a piece of paper that has been buried in a time capsule for fifty years and that predicts accurately every disaster that has happened in the last fifty years, and a few more that are about to happen. The paper is written in code, so we track his unravelling of this code, his disbelief, his trying to convince others. This was a solid spec fic premise, so the writers had me from the beginning.

My son had auditioned unsuccessfully for a part in this film -- he was a bit too old anyway, and always has looked older than he is, which is not a benefit for a child actor -- so we felt we had a personal connection to the film. This was intensified when I was speaking to a friend who is friends with a girl who did get in (and she was very good!). And I have to love an apocalyptic image of the end of the world happening around the State Library of Victoria. Very reminiscent of On the beach. (I'm sure Ava Gardner would have found that appropriate! Or perhaps not. And isn't that disappointing to learn!) Anyway, I've digressed...

I loved this film. I always like Nicolas Cage, and it was funny seeing some American city with the West Gate Bridge in the background (another touchstone for me), and there was a great mixture of intrigue and darkness and action and fear. It ends with Biblical symbolism, which may colour the response of some viewers, but didn't bother me. This will be another I have to buy.

Duplicity is the story of two ex-spies (CIA and MI6) who get together to organise their own corporate sting. I have to say it's a very brave screenwriter who puts together a movie where nobody has any idea what's happening for the first third of the movie. And I mean no idea. I went in prepared to love this movie, but by the time I realised it was a puzzle I had to put together, I'd already lost interest. My son said this was the first film he'd ever considered walking out of. It wasn't quite that bad for me, but I felt all of its length (unusual for me), and, while it did end well, this wasn't enough of a save for me to ever (and I mean ever) want to watch this one again. 

After my summer of "Spooks", I was really disappointed not to be gripped by this. Once the pieces start to come together, it does become more interesting, but as I said it was way too late for me. The first fifteen minutes are meant to establish what type of movie it is, what it's going to be about, the characters, the tone and atmosphere. And I was just sitting there wondering where all this was leading and whether I'd missed something crucial. I hadn't come in late, had I? The first hint that something more was going on was a repeated scene -- the dialogue repeated but in a different location, which piqued my interest, but I still had no idea what the hell was going on. Some time after that, I did have an inkling, and had put the whole story together by the end, but it annoyed me to be in the dark for so long. Be warned. See this one at your own risk!


Mim said...

Have you read Maguire's book Wicked? I enjoyed the book but was quite surprised to hear it was being turned into a musical I've been glad to hear it turned out so well. Must take my daughter to see it at some point, I wonder if it will end up coming to Sydney?

I'm going to the movies tomorrow - to see Monsters vs Aliens. I gather it's quite fun :)

Aiden said...

Have you read Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels? There are currently five in the series (beginning with The Eyre Affair) and they have the exact premise you wished for in Inkheart - the characters go inside books and interact with the worlds and characters. Highly recommended.