Friday, February 09, 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima & The Departed

For the longest time I have wondered what it would be like to watch a movie in an empty theatre. In the past, I have been to some shows where there were only a handful of people (6-8) but I had never been the only person in a theatre. Well I almost got my chance to be the only audience member at Monday night's 9:50 pm show of Letters from Iwo Jima at the local multiplex. Now, I had expected the theatre to be not busy given the screening time and day but I never expected it to be empty. So I was completely shocked to find that I was the only person present in theatre #10 at exactly 9:50 pm. I looked up towards the projection room to see if they were indeed planning on carrying ahead with the show. No sooner did I take my seat, the screen readjusted and the movie trailers started.

9:57 pm -- after 3 movie trailers, the film starts and still no one else had come. Eerie. At this point, I felt this experience brought true meaning to the words "home theatre" -- I had my very own personal multiplex theatre. Not a single sound to disturb my movie watching experience. However, I had trouble focusing on the movie. It seemed I had difficulty overcoming the theatre's emptiness.

10:05 pm -- another man walks into the theatre. He too is shocked by the emptiness and finds a seat a few rows above me. He seemed to respect the utter silence perfectly and I hardly heard him chewing his popcorn. And so it was just the two of us for the next 2+ hours watching this film. Atleast for 7 minutes of the film, I had my own theatre :)

Onto the film itself....

Prior to seeing the movie, I had a gut feeling that it would not be that great. But seeing how much I loved Clint Eastwood's Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby, I felt I should give this a go. For some reason, I decided to skip Flags of our Fathers and wanted to watch ..Iwo Jima first. In the end, my gut feeling was correct. The movie is not that great. But I have to give credit where it is due.Given the current political climate, I think it is very brave that Eastwood made a war movie from the other point of view. It is not very often you get to see a human face to the enemy from an American film, let alone Hollywood. Looking at Hollywood's history of war films, it would appear that everyone is American's enemy. The Germans, Japanese, Russians, Vietnamese, Arabs, etc have all been villains at some point in Hollywood's shining war film history. Yes, in the past some American directors tried showing the 'horror' of war but it was always from an American point of view -- those films just showed the occasional American character who turned 'insane' and tried to kill his own American people.

Eastwood's feature is completely in Japanese with Japanese actors. Like most war movies, you get an assorted array of innocent, brave and weak characters. The films just changes the locales and language from previous Hollywood war movies. Of course, one could argue that war brings our similar behaviour on both sides and there is never any winner in a war. One side may bomb the other and claim victory but the real damage comes at the expense of mere citizens who are representing a nation, even though they may not believe in that nation's ideals. I do plan on seeing Flags of our Fathers to complete both angles of the story but I want to pretend that movie does not exist and only focus on this Japanese version for now.

..Iwo Jima is shot very well and the sounds + cinematography really gave a bleak view of the situation. The visuals are very grayish (bordering close to black and white) with the only color in the film shown in scenes of Iwo Jima in 2005 (when the letters of the soldiers were discovered) and when the bombs go off in 1944 Iwo Jima. I did feel there were a few forced scenes in the movie. Now, I am almost willing to blame those scenes on Paul Haggis. Even though I loved his Crash, I do feel he may be trying to insert his emotionally rigged scenes in films. I blame some of the worst scenes of Casion Royale on his writing as well. Now, this could be an incorrect assumption on my part as I have no idea which scenes he wrote in both Casino Royale and in..Iwo Jima. In particular, one scene in ..Iwo Jima reminded me of a moment from The Shawshank Redemption -- in ..Shawshank there is a scene when Tim Robbins's character plays classical music over the prison loud-speakers. All the inmates pause and listen to this musical piece. I was reminded of this scene when all the Japanese soldiers pause and listen to the words of a letter an American mother wrote for her son. This scene felt forced and was not the only one in the movie. Overall, disappointed with the movie. Rating 7.5/10

The Departed (Director, Martin Scorsese): Rating 8.5/10

This movie has been in the theatres for a long time. At first I didn't want to see this because I quite liked Infernal Affairs and was not happy that Hollywood had decided to remake it. But I finally changed my mind and saw this on Friday, Feb 9. I can't remember every scene of Infernal Affairs but I do remember how I was hooked onto that movie's intelligent cat and mouse game -- the Hong Kong film was dark, gritty and very well done. So I was quite surprized to find how different The Departed feels. Scorsese's film has a very light hearted undertone to it. The first 30 min or so are filled with bits of humour. On top of that, the setting of Boston and presence of Irish music & humour changes the mood of the film for the better. Although, it was strange to find a lot of the characters Boston accent off in some scenes. At times, the characters accent was perfect only to disappear in the next.

The Departed does get the cat and mouse game kicked in high gear after an hour or and it is indeed well done. The body count only rises in the end and even then it happens in a flash. The entire 2+ hour is packed with witty (and sometimes smart-ass) conversations but the body counts happens without any words or warnings. The suddeness of the scenes brought surprize and even some confused laughs from the audience. Another surprizing aspect of the film is the love story. One can notice the difference between Matt Damon's and DiCaprio's characters just by their interactions with the sole female interest. Jack Nicholson's character's love life is also briefly shown. The lingering relationship scenes in a gangster movie felt right out of a Michael Mann movie.

In the end, I am glad I finally saw this movie and liked it but I am not convinced this is the masterpiece as it being hailed.

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm going to see "Letters from Iwo Jima" later today, but only for two reasons: Because I'm curious if it's deserving of a Best Picture nomination, and because I don't think I can handle yet another flick about a man in a fat suit .. I hope I like it more than you did, but I found "Flags" to be flawed, so probably not