Posted by: bkivey | 17 May 2010

Three Movies

In the past couple of weeks I have seen three movies that I had had an interest in, but not enough of an interest to see them when released. Over the last five years I have seen exactly three movies during their first run in theaters, not because I don’t like the theater experience; the sound and picture experience are still far above anything the average person is likely to have at home, and if the audience gets involved in the movie the experience is greatly enhanced, but because going out to the movies isn’t high on my list of things to do. As a result I often find myself watching movies years after their release that I wish I had seen in the theater. Jaws and Apollo 13 fall into this category, although in truth I was too young to see Jaws when it was first released.

My film acumen can best be described as casual amateur. I watch a movie for the same reason that people have been listening to storytellers from the dawn of time: to enjoy a good story well told. That’s it. Call me unsophisticated, but I’m not looking for deeper meaning in a film. While I can and do appreciate good camera work, editing, acting, and direction, I’m not looking to attribute deep metaphorical meaning to everything that’s happening on the screen. Give me a good story, believable characters, snappy dialogue, technical competence, and good pacing and I’ll enjoy the movie. Everything else I’ll leave to the film student.

Ratatouille

This is a fun film. Pixar Studios have made a living off of producing the kind of animation that those of us of a certain age remember from Saturday morning: entertaining for the kids and sophisticated enough for the adults. I have seen four Pixar films to date (Toy Story, which I did see in theater, and Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles) and have enjoyed them.

My favorite supporting character in the movie was Colette, partly because I have spent a lot of time in restaurant kitchens but also because I thought that hers was the most developed of the supporting characters. The scene where she is instructing Linguini on proper kitchen procedure is dead-on and when she tells him that she will kill him if he doesn’t keep his station clean; that may seem like hyperbole, but it’s not, really. Besides, who doesn’t like a good-looking bad-ass chick who rides a motorcycle and can cook like nobody’s business?

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

This movie is based on the Aubrey/Maturin series of novels by Patrick O’Brian. For the uninitiated, this is a series of 20 historical fiction novels set around the time of the Napoleonic Wars that follow the career of Royal Navy officer Jack Aubrey and his friendship with ship’s surgeon and polymath Stephen Maturin. The series is notable for it’s extraordinary depth and vivid descriptions of a particular time and place. O’Brian did not coddle his readers: literary allusions are scattered throughout the novels and his characters use the jargon of their trade freely and without discourse.

Master and Commander is primarily the story of a sea chase, and while a familiarity with the novels is not required to enjoy the movie, if you are familiar with the series it becomes apparent that many of the scenes in the movie are lifted directly from the novels, although in some cases context is changed. Director Peter Weir’s craft at stitching these scenes into a cohesive storyline, high production values, and special effects that serve the story rather than become the story all draw the viewer into the movie.

Russell Crowe plays the part of Jack Aubrey and whatever Mr. Crowe’s limitations may be as an actor, he makes the role his own, so much so that it is difficult to imagine anyone else playing the part. During key scenes he is able to project hints of the captain’s humanity underneath the disciplined and competent naval officer. Paul Bettany’s portrayal of the complex and reserved Stephen Maturin is a bit more problematical, but that is due more to the constraints of film than any failing on the part of the actor or director.

Beowulf

Like nearly every other kid in the English-speaking world, I was exposed to this epic while in high school, and I actually enjoyed it. As I recall, the translation I read kept much of the original sentence structure rendered in modern English. I thought that it was an entertaining story with vivid descriptions.

I recently saw the 2007 film version of the story, and there wasn’t anything I liked about it. The dialogue was laughable, the lines were delivered without emotion and in the case of the title character played by Ray Winstone, uttered as if he could use a dose of laxative. The set design and rendering were confusing. I understand that epic stories are by nature filled with hyperbole but the choice to carry that concept over to the rendering of  6th century Denmark rang false. I got the impression that the director wasn’t sure exactly what kind of ‘look’ they were trying to achieve.

The most egregious offense was that the movie is boring and lacks cohesion. Major parts of the movie feel like they are unconnected to a central storyline and I often found my attention wandering. or wondering what this scene had to do with anything. The battle with the sea monsters and the long final battle with the dragon feel like they were put in as fillers rather than advancing any sort of plot. I am sure that there is a good movie inside this epic poem, but this film isn’t it.

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