Tuesday, 31 December 2002

Movie Roundup, 2002

Some of these I saw at the Cambridge Film Festival, and didn't actually see full release until 2003...

I hadn't planned it that way, but I almost managed the year without seeing a Hollywood blockbuster (read - I explicitly didn't see the latest Star Wars, and nothing I've heard made it seem like I made the wrong decision, nor SpiderMan, as I always felt that Spidey was a tedious tosser. But, at a loose end one evening while Karen was out gaming, and having had good word of it, I went to see xXx. It has action, wise-cracking, sticking it to James Bond, gratuitous hip-ness, and keeps the slushy bits to a minimum – just the sort of thing to indulge one's inner 12-year-old with.

Having broken the clean run, I compounded it by seeing Chamber of Secrets – which I felt was better than Philosopher's Stone for spending more time on plot and less on gosh-wow scene setting. The station exterior shown for King's Cross is actually the next door station at St. Pancras – its recently cleaned Victorian Gothic brickwork being more spectacular than the low, modern, frontage of King's Cross, even were it not at the moment surrounded by the desolation of the works being carried out for the new Eurostar terminus.

Two Towers wasn't bad, but in a situation where they were having to juggle three storylines anyway, and trim to fit into 3 hours, adding the needless extra Aragorn material from whole cloth wasn't what I'd've done. I was amused to see them continuing to top their previous “elf stunts” with the snowboarding with a shield trick. Overall, though, I didn't think it was quite as good as part 1, which I'd seen again a couple of weeks previously.

Le Roi Danse (distributed in the UK under the translated title The King is Dancing) is a behind-the-scenes story of the youth of Louis XIV, the Sun King, from the point of view of his Italian dancing master, Lully. While Louis struggles against the severe demands of his mother's faction, Lully has to contend with maintaining his popularity against the scurrilous Moliere.

Avalon (2003 release), from the director of Ghost in the Shell, and shot in Poland, with a local cast (Polish dialog subtitled in English). The film is in some ways the Matrix in reverse – people from the dark depressing future (shot with Eastern European locations in a colour subdued style – not quite sepia, but nearly so, to the same effect as the bleached out 1984 version of 1984, but darker – by halfway through I had almost forgotten what green looked like, except as an artefact of low-light scopes) lose themselves in the eponymous VR wargame. The game takes the language of D&D – characters form parties of Warriors, Thieves (self described as guides or scouts), Mages or Bishops, and gain levels and experience; though it is all modern small-unit combat – even when there's a Bishop in one scene we never see him do anything other than be Command and Control. In another Matrix-like touch, the future computer UIs (outside of the immersive VR) are very retro – those shown here would have been cutting edge c1975.
The plot follows Ash, a 12 or 13th level Warrior, at the top of Class A, the highest division. She has been playing solo since her once famous party split up, following a game that they didn't complete after one of their number bailed out midway through. She is following leads that suggest another member of that team has managed to find the way into a higher set of game levels (Special A). It's all very atmospheric, but pads itself out by repeating a number of bridging scenes, and eventually ends a couple of minutes before we'd find out what the hell was really going on. In all, unsatisfying but pretty.

Lost in La Mancha, a documentary about the abortive production of Terry Gilliam's film The Man who killed Don Quixote, as it accumulated one jinx after another (on a tight schedule, stars don't show, the locations turn out to be next to an airbase with constant overflights, a flash flood wipes out the first day's shooting, and the actor playing Quixote is invalided out with prostate and back problems). In its 90 minutes, we see just about all the film that Gilliam actually shot, as well as seeing the true life story of a Murphy's Guide to making a film. Perhaps one of these days the real film may get made; as it is, this gives an idea of what really goes on behind the scenes.

Revenger's Tragedy (2003 release), Alex Cox (Repo Man)'s realisation of Middleton's (or Torneur's - the authorship is disputed) 1607 play, described at the time as the product of a diseased mind, transposed into a dark future Liverpool. It was shot on location there, with an all-local cast. Intertwining the original dialog with just enough Scouse for context, it makes the old story feel modern. Unlike Avalon, this dark future is all night and neon, where the Duke (Derek Jacobi, playing an aging roué) rules with an iron fist, and takes his droite de seigneur seriously. Disturbing this comes Vindici (Christopher Ecclestone, eXistenZ,Elizabeth) to take revenge for the poisoning (for refusing the Duke's advances) of his bride on their wedding day, playing his sons (Eddie Izzard superb as Lussurio, the eldest) against him and one another until the predictable Jacobean gorefest at the end. Simply superb, with a soundtrack by Chumbawumba.

The Warrior, a Hindi language film, based, I believe on a Japanese tale. Not Bollywood; rather think Kurosawa in colour.