DavisFoulger's movie reviews tend to appear here after they have appeared on his news page: http://davis.foulger.info.
- Howl's Moving Castle
- Hayao Miyazaki is widely credited as creating some of the very best animated motion pictures ever made. His latest effort, "Howl's Moving Castle", will only burnish that reputation. The art of his animation is outstanding, of course, but it is the ways in which he uses animation to move the story forward that distinguishes his pictures from everyone elses. Although Howl is, unusually for Miyazaki, based on someone elses book, the characters, the magic, the landscapes, and the amazing steam-era technologies that are all pur Miyazaki. No one else makes movies quite this way, and the result, here as in the past, is well worth seeing on the big screen, where none of the fine detail will be lost. Nothing is quite as it seems in this movie and its depiction of war is simply stunning.
- "Batman Begins"
- A brooding 'requel' to the original Batman movie series. I say 'requel' because it starts, much as Burton's classic Batman did, in childhood, with the future Dark Knight witnessing the death of his parents. In truth, it starts even earlier than that - perhaps a few days or months earlier - with the boy playing with a girl in the gardens of the ancient and palatial Wayne estate somehere outside Gotham City. Here we encounter not just the future Batman, but his eventual unrequited love interest, who has found an old (and somewhat oversize) American indian arrowhead. A minor game or conflict over that arrowhead causes the boy to fall down a well, where, before he is rescued, he encounters what will become both his greatest fear, and via that fear, a source of death to his parents, a fear of bats. It doesn't take long for the director to work through this section, where sets up many of the movies major characters and recurrent themes. No recounting on paper can adequately capture the mastery of the filmmaking in this portion of the movie. This is filmmaking at its very best ... and in making it the director of "Memento" moves his status from a quirkily obsessive movie maker to somewhere else. This Batman compares to "Memento" in much the same way that Luca's "Star Wars" compares to his earlier "THX 1138". Its too early to say we have a new Speilberg in our directoral galaxy, but we certainly have a new Lucas. If the owners of the Batman franchise have any sense at all, they will recognise that whatever else changes, this director should be allowed to own the franchise for a while. Of course that should have happened last time. Taking the Burton/Keaton combination off of the series with the third movie nearly killed the series, which returns now, but in a new and, if anything, more nuanced interpretation, but also a new interpretation, right down to the details of who killed Batman's parents and how those details would sort themselves out. We meet the killer, but it is not the Joker of Batman's version, but a nobody who dies before the someday Batman starts down the fateful course in which he will become the caped crusader. We also experience this, in a bit of time manipulation worthy of the maker of Memento, somewhere in the middle, jailed for stealing his own property and dreaming of the events that will make bats the metaphor of his alter-ego. Much more can be said about this new beginning, in which the scenery is less gothic and yet somehow darker and more ambiguous, much as Bales new Batman is. See it. Its worth the ten bucks to see this one on the big screen.
- "The War of the World's"
- My reaction to Steven Spielberg's latest collaboration with Tom Cruise is mixed. On the negative side, this story is, quite frankly, suspense free. The lead characters survival of the first attack is unbelievable and it gets worse from there. It is only by the sheerest luck that he and his children survive at all, and there are very few places where his actions have anything at all to do with the survival. The problem here is not that we already know the story and how it will end. It is that the story lacks any credibility. Give me some reason, early on, to believe that this guy has a clue about ANYTHING and the story might work, but this guy has no skills beyond engine repair and crane operation, and those skills barely matter to the story at all. On the positive side, I've recently been reading Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel", which recounts, among other things, a number of real "wars" between highly mismatched opponents over the course of recent human history. One thing this movie gets very right is the desparate futility and impotence associated with trying to fighting a vastly superior opponent. If, thinking metaphorically, you think of the alien invaders as standing in for the United States and the human victims of the invaders as standing in for the the Iraqi army, and you begin to get a sense of what the Iraqis experienced in the early stages of our wars on them. Speilberg depicts an alien blitzkreig in which, again speaking metaphorically, German tanks and air power overpowers a horsebound Polish infantry. The problem for us, in his movie, is that we're the Polish. From that standpoint, a movie well worth seeing, as it allows us to walk a mile in our opponents moccasins.
- I wouldn't have even considered going to see this movie if I hadn't its trailer. The concept of turning a half hour situation comedy into a movie seemed unlikely to work at any level beyond generating buzz. It was a good series, but movies are made of different stuff than television, and sitcoms have done particularly badly when translated to movies. Even the television movies are usually pretty bad. The trailer showed that the producers at least had a clue, however, with a concept that converted the series into a story within a story within a story of a witch who is trying to live without magic being discovered and playing a witch who is trying to live without magic. It doesn't sound like much of a change, but the additional layering open up lots of possibilities for confusion and double and triple entendre. The results, at times, are an almost Shakesperian recasting of the classic television situation comedy as a movie romantic comedy. That description gives the movie too much credit. While Nora Ephrem ("Sleepless in Seattle") is a master of the romantic comedy genre and the complications of the main plot are well done, much to much is made of the old series and the traditions of situation comedy. The Aunt Clara subplot is effectively an situation comedy episode in and of itself, and it doesn't work. It is a distraction from the main plot that helps to swell the movie to over two and a half hours. The Uncle Arthur sequence is another forgettable distraction. A bad impersonation of Paul Lynde is far worse than none at all. Most of this will be cut when the movie is trimmed to 105 minutes for television. It will be a better movie when it is. The play within a play works, however, and makes Bewitched fairly good for a television translation to a movie. See it if you loved Sleepless.
- "Mr. and Mrs. Smith"
- Not well received by the critics, but will do well with audiences. Critics seem dissapointed that the action overwhelms the premise, but the premise, of two smart "hit people" on "different sides" meeting and marrying each other is an interesting one. It is never clear what the "sides" are (although there is a strong male/female differentiation of the "sides") or if either can be regarded as the good guys or the bad guys. This is sort of a "When Harry meets Sally" postmortem where it turns out that Harry and Sally have secret lives (even from each other) as big time contract killers. There is a difficult juggling act between some distantly related genres here, and the juggling doesn't always work well, but it is extremely funny, especially when they start shooting at each other. From that standpoint its a great date movie for the current generation. The guys get action. The girls get a strong female figure beating up on a strong guy AND a pleasant denouement in which love really does conquer all (in some sense quite literally). Not the best movie I've seen this summer, but very entertaining.
- "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe"
- I had been surprised, when I first started to see advertizing for this movie, that they had even tried. This is one of the quirkiest series of novels in science fiction, and is very much a head piece (such things tend not to translate well to film). It is not, on the other hand, as if the classic SciFi novels (all five novels of the "trilogy") didn't start out as radio. There has always been something of a multi-medium aspect to these stories. I was glad to see a movie version, but I worried that we might be looking at another "DeLaurentis"-style remodeling of a great novel into something entirely different. With Disney (Touchstone Pictures) in charge I worried even more, as they have a bad habit of penny pinching on the things that really matter, like the director. The directors here are a disney-esque odd choice who are better known for their work in Music Videos. The movie is delightful, however. The critics, on average, have given it a B. The big crowds you seek in a summer blockbuster are nowhere to be seen. Indeed, barely a month into its run the big local multiplex I saw it at was running just two shows a day. Too bad. This is easily one of the most intelligent films to hit the screen in a long time. Very funny and very much in keeping with the spirit of the original novels. If you're looking for action, this may not be the movie for you, but if you have a sense of humor, it probably is.
- Star Wars Episode III - The Revenge of the Sith
- If you've enjoyed any of the Star Wars films, Star Wars Episode III is a must see. It is, in most respects, a superb movie, and it ties many threads together with a narrative that is compelling and stunning semiotic references. Aside from a few bad (or badly delivered) lines early in the episode, this is a masterful conclusion (or centerpiece, depending on your perspective), to the saga. You know how it all ends, but Lucas still manages to surprise. The cross cut scenes of parallel action in different parts of the Star Wars universe are particularly compelling, as they depict clearly distinct threads of action that are just as clearly interconnected in important ways. I almost can't believe how elegantly he ties the last scenes of the movie with early scenes of Episode IV. The sunset of Episode III is the sunrise of Episode IV. Its almost a textbook lesson in narrative semiotics. Simply amazing, not so much because it isn't the obvious thing to do, but because it is simply stunning on first viewing; it doesn't seem obvious until you've thought about it for a while.
- On second viewing, many of the semiotic choices in the movie, while self-referential to other movies in the series, are simply stunning. I am more impressed than ever with his clever cross cutting, especially in the final scenes, in which sunsets abound and parallel action accentuates the big themes in a huge way. The parallel birth of Luke and Leia with the surgery that produces Darth Vader is a stark contrast of depth of despair and production of new hope. It is classic and beautifully done filmmaking that ought to earn Lucas a long overdue directing nod. Simply superb shot selection for nearly every scene starting with the battle with Count Dooku, which is an almost perfect recreation of the set that recurs in Episode 6 as Luke battles Darth Vader at the very end. It is also suggestive. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader must have a father somewhere. There has never been a good candidate before other than some sort of midi-clorian virgin birth. Palpatine, the chancellor. emperor, and Sith Lord, sets that up as a real possibility with his legend of a prior Sith lord who could coax the midi-clorians into creating life, a Sith Lord he may well have murdered. There would be a symmetry of sorts if Count Dooku was the father, but I would guess we'll never know, and the irony would be all the greater if Darth Sideous/Palpatine's teacher was coaxed Anakin into life. There is a wonderful layering of complications here.
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