Sunday, February 05, 2006

Cakes, Penguins, Bears, Cars and Girls

What makes a good movie? So many ways to analyze a movie, so many ways to critique a movie but at the end of the day, one sure fire way to know what makes a good movie is if one genuinely likes it. Based on that likeness factor, I try to judge this week’s haul. There are a couple of highly praised movies but I just didn't like them. At times, I don't care about the objective state of a goes --

Layer Cake (Directed by Matthew Vaughn): Rating 9/10

I genuinely enjoyed this Brit gangster movie. Even though it is not on the same caliber as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels , it is well made and decently acted. Daniel Craig gives us a sample about what we can expect when he finally makes his Bond debut. In the movie, Craig plays a simple nameless gangster who believes his crimes are justified as being just ‘business’ (been there, seen that in several countless Asian gangster movies). But his character is not street smart enough to look at the whole picture and understand the hierarchy about how the drug business really works. Because of his naivety, we can see the careless mistakes this gangster is making and as the audience, we have a sense of where these mistakes will lead his character. Nonetheless, it is a watch-able movie if you are in the mood for this genre.

March of the Penguins (Directed by Luc Jacquet): Rating 10/10

WOW! All the people associated with this movie should be very proud of their work. This is a beautiful and eye opening work. We learn something new and are introduced to a world which we will never encounter personally. And the film-makers spent more than a year living in the harsh icy land of Antarctica to bring us this film. For that reason alone, they deserve all the praise and credits! As for the film itself, it looks at the annual Empire Penguins mating and march routine. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this is just a delightful and tragic story about what has to be one of the hardest parenting jobs out there.

Grizzly Man (Directed by Werner Herzog): Rating 7/10

This one is a tough documentary to judge. I first heard about this movie when it was doing the film festival circuits. The hype around this movie was huge. It was even sold out at the local film festival in my city and for one reason or another, I missed the regular theatrical screenings (after the festival) as well. So I had to make do with the DVD version. And I am glad I saw this on DVD because that gave me the chance to better assess this movie. But I don’t think it was a good idea to see this movie after I had seen March of the Penguins because my expectations were sky high. ..Penguins had given us a real insight into the strange yet beautiful animals so I expected a similar feat from Grizzly Man . That was my biggest mistake. Because this is not a movie about Grizzly bears but about a man who ‘believed’ he loved those creatures. I say ‘believed’ because after watching this movie, I am not convinced if the man in question really understood the bears. Werner Herzog does a pretty decent job of going through 100 hours of footage that Timothy Treadwell made about his Grizzly bear encounters over a span of 13 years. Ironically, Timothy was killed and eaten by the very creature he claimed to have loved. But despite Herzog’s best intentions, I didn’t find this to be an interesting documentary. This is not his fault because he didn’t shoot the original footage so he could only work with what he did. And some of the people he interviews are not the most interesting (not to take any names but one of Treadwell’s ex-girlfriends). Nor do I find any merit in listening to Treadwell hype himself up via his video diaries. It is clear that Treadwell was not doing anything to protect the bears even though he keeps repeating this several times. So why should I praise a documentary about a person who was clearly delusional? I don’t want to judge Treadwell but documentaries are usually an interesting film medium -- they sometimes help to shed light on uncovered topics but in this movie’s case, I didn’t find that to be the case. That being said, one scene really stands out from this movie. There was a scene when one of the bears is swimming. As the bear is heading towards the shore, Treadwell touches it slightly from behind. Suddenly the bear jerks backward in a reflexive manner expressing annoyance at having been disturbed. The bear’s reaction was a very human behaviour when we react at having been touched by a stranger. Treadwell never clued onto that cold behaviour from that bear or the several others he tried to befriend. He believed the creatures acknowledged him, and he himself wanted to become one of them. Some people do want to become someone (or something else) because they can’t stand the strange world they inhabit. But if movies were made about all such people, should we really stand up and praise all of them?

Breathless (1960 movie directed by Jean-Luc Godard): Rating 7.5/10

This movie is considered to be one of the classics of modern cinema! I am sure I would have felt differently about this movie if I had seen this back in 1960 and not in 2006. Because back in 1960, this movie would actually have been different! But in this day and age, I find it quite dull. Yes there are lots of interesting parts to this story about a French car thief and an American girl but overall, I was not that bowled over. In 1960, this movie’s pacing might have felt ‘breathless’ but nowadays even the most amateur movie can splice frames at a frantic pace.

Fat Girl (2001 movie Written and Directed by Catherine Breillat): Rating 6.5/10

You sometimes know what to expect when you are watching movies from certain directors. I had seen an earlier film by Catherine Breillat and read about her latest film Anatomy of Hell , so I prepared myself for the worst. Contrary to my preconceived notions, I didn’t find Fat Girl that shocking. It is brutally honest in its portrayal of teenage girls, sibling rivalry and boys but what annoyed me was the direction this movie took in the final 20 minutes. Surely there was a more effective way to end this movie? I felt like the Breillat didn't know how to end the story so she decided to end it with a bang just because...The movie focuses on the relationship between two sisters, a thin 15 year old and a fat 13 year old. The two already share a love-hate relationship when the older sister meets a young Italian boy. Mix sex with raging hormones and you have a complicated range of emotions. Like in other Breillat movies, the camera does not flinch but instead invites us to watch closely as the characters go about their lives. A bit too closely at times….

1 comment:

Pacze Moj said...

I think Layer Cake is stylized to the point of distraction. The story, with its endings, didn't work for me, either. On the whole, Layer Cake kinda whizzed by and I have a hard time even criticizing it because I barely remember the film!


Good duo of "animal" documentaries. Although I liked Grizzly Man more than March of the Penguins, they're both great. Still, I think Herzog's film stands up as much more than just a nature doc; one of my favourite films of 2005.