Sunday, July 20, 2008

Super-heroes and arch-villains


Iron Man
Directed by Jon Favreau

Yes, TVOR knows that the Bat movie opened this weekend. She's planning to see it, but is going to wait until the hubbub dies down a little. There are options, however. Viewers can visit theaters for almost private showings of Iron Man, which has been out since early May. And that's not a bad way to spend a couple of hours. The movie has several good things going for it--a story that makes sense (in the super-hero movie way of making sense), a well-written script, and good actors who are encouraged to act--playing characters, interacting with each other, that kind of thing. The special effects are fine, too, but that's sort of expected these days. It's nice that in Iron Man, they don't get carried away with them. Those good actors include Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, and Terrence Howard. This is a super-hero movie that works even for people who usually don't like super-hero movies. Like TVOR. Yes, it's safe to go. And there are no lines.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
Directed and co-written by Joss Whedon

This is not actually a movie. It's an internet thing. Although it's not actually a blog. And it isn't a sing-along, either, though there is a lot of singing. You'll probably just enjoy it more if you're not singing yourself. Joss Whedon, the creator of TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and others that inspire a devoted following, created Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog as a piece of internet entertainment. It's a tale in three acts, in musical form, coming in at a total of a little over 40 minutes. It tells the story of an aspiring arch-villain named Dr. Horrible, and his efforts to get into an elite club of baddies called the Evil League of Evil. Dr. Horrible also has to deal with a really irritating nemesis, Captain Hammer, and a bad case of unrequited love. It's free through July 20th, and available on iTunes after that. It's worth checking out, even if you have to pay a little.

Video notes:

If you're not in the mood for heroes and villains, there are a few recent video releases to take a look at.

The Bank Job--this entertaining caper is based on a true story about a heist gone wrong. Roger Donaldson directed, and it stars Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows. It's best not to know too much going in. Just enjoy.

My Brother is an Only Child--the story of two brothers growing up in a small town in Italy in 1960's and 70's, it also takes the viewer through some of the social changes in Italy during the time.

The Counterfeiters--this Austrian movie won the Oscar for best foreign language film last spring. It's based on a true incident that occurred during World War II, when the Germans tried to destabilize the economies of the U.S. and England by using prisoners to create perfect counterfeit currency. TVOR wrote about it in her entry of 4/2/08.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Back to the movies


The 2008 edition of the Seattle International Film Festival ended in mid-June, and although TVOR had a wonderful time and saw many, many films (with very few losers among them), she felt it was time for a hiatus from the movies. But it's time to hit the theaters again. Summer movies don't tend to be her thing, but fortunately there are interesting things out there for people who don't necessarily want to see the latest summer action film.

This is hardly an independent film, as it comes from Disney. However, WALL-E is from Pixar, which was acquired by Disney a couple of years ago. Pixar seems to have been left alone to make art (and Pixar movies are art) the way the people there want to. WALL-E is a great example of what they do, which is to make G-rated animated movies that even the most cynical adult can enjoy. The animation is beautiful, the characters are interesting, and the stories are wonderfully told.

WALL-E tells the story of a world abandoned by all humans and tended only by a little robot who is basically a trash compacter on wheels. WALL-E methodically compacts and stacks the enormous mounds of garbage left behind, and this little guy has job security--the piles of junk are endless. During the opening sequences we see WALL-E at work and get to know him as he goes about his day. It becomes apparent as we watch that there is a consciousness at work that is more than robotic. (He collects artifacts that interest him, and has a fondness for a VHS copy of Hello Dolly!, which he plays constantly.) His world is changed (for the better) when a probe is sent to evaluate earth's habitability, and the rest of the film follows him on his adventures with the visitor (named Eve) and his encounters with humans and other robots.

None of what TVOR has written gives you an idea of how lovely this film is. Let her just say that it in addition to beautiful animation and a well-told story, this movie has more humanity in it, and more food for thought, than 95% of what passes for adult entertainment today. Go see it, and see it on as big a screen as possible.

Up the Yangtze
This documentary, made by Chinese-Canadian director Yung Chang, looks at the effects of China's huge Three Gorges Dam project on some of the people in the area. Two million people will be displaced by the dam by the time it's completed, and entire cities are being demolished. Much of the film takes place on a cruise up the Yangtze River for tourists (mostly Americans and Europeans) to see what is about to be flooded--farms, cities, and history--before these things disappear forever. The film focuses on the stories of two of the young people employed on the boat. We also spend time with the peasant farm family one of these employees left--the family she had to leave in order to earn money to support them as the waters rose.

Up the Yangtze also tells the larger story of change in China--the pursuit of modernity and the sacrifices made by individuals (not that they have any choice) for the good of the many.

This is definitely a movie to check out, for the individual stories and the larger story as well. Plus, you'll never get to see this scenery in person. It's already too late.

Video notes:

Andrew Stanton, the writer-director of WALL-E, also made the Pixar film Finding Nemo in 2003. It's another good one.

And for another view of how huge industrial projects are changing the landscape in China, take a look at Jennifer Baichwal's 2006 documentary Manufactured Landscapes. The film follows Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky around as he takes gorgeous, troubling photographs of the ecological havoc that is being wrought as China leaps into the modern world. It's light on words, but the pictures are eloquent.