Movie Madness

Apart from the Hitchhikers preview (because it was a rare chance to get in first) and Revenge of the Sith (because I had to write about it right away, before over-analysing it) I haven’t reviewed any movies here this year. There are two reasons: one, I told Paul and Nic I’d do some reviews for, which meant not doing them here first (but kept getting side-tracked to the point where it was getting embarrassing); and two, I haven’t actually been to a lot of movies this year.

So in an effort to address both, I’m going to sweep up all the remnants of my 2005 movie-watching into one big review here, and see what sticks out in the way of useful-sized lint-balls to send to mino and pearly. Then if I see any more I won’t just be adding to the backlog. Here we go...

Kung Fu Hustle, House of Flying Daggers, and The Cat Returns

Until a few years ago the words “kung fu” conjured up faded images of David Carradine and the funky sounds of “Kung Fu Fighting”, but nowadays all the cats move like lightning. House of Flying Daggers takes the genre to new heights—the height of a bamboo forest, anyway—with its ravishing cast and imagery, and a plot full of satisfying twists, turns, and flying kicks. The final scene of a one-on-one fight played out against a segue from autumn to winter was as memorable as any I’d seen in a long while.

Kung Fu Hustle manages a few scenes just as impressive, but where House of Flying Daggers is quiet and poetic, this knockabout comedy of 1920s gangsters, timid peasants and tough landladies is loud and frenetic. You know that it’s going to be something different when the Axe Gang do a quick jazz dance routine before going out on the rampage. From then on it’s all crazy characters, cringe-making stereotypes, and more than enough action to outweigh both.

If you prefer cats that don’t move like lightning, try The Cat Returns, a feline animation from the studio that produced Spirited Away. Plenty of funny and fantastical scenes of moggies carrying umbrellas and wearing Edwardian suits; it’s a bit too short, and peaks a little early, but is worth watching just for the first sight of the Cat King’s entourage.

Sideways, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Wonder Boys

I managed to embarrass myself over Sideways by saying to a friend that it was incredibly real, only for her to come back, “No it’s not! I didn’t think it was realistic at all!” She had a point: two losers effortlessly hooking up with two beautiful, self-assured women—where’s the realism in that? But as a male viewer focussed on the male leads and their male woes (and writing off the romantic subplots as so much movie mumbo-jumbo), I found plenty that rang true in Sideways: the odd couple friendship; the failed dreams; the reaching-aboutness of middle age. We all know people like that. And who doesn’t like a good drop of merlot? I’m a big admirer of Alexander Payne’s movies, and this did nothing to diminish that, realistic or not.

Even better was Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. No-one would claim this was realistic: the whole film hovers somewhere between a 1960s Jacques Cousteau world and today’s, with teams of aquanauts in homemade jumpsuits, bizarro CGI fish, and grown men chasing the innocent dreams of ten-year-olds. But what it lacked in realism it more than made up in charm; there’s no better word to describe The Life Aquatic. Charming, and funny, especially when Bill Murray gets his groove on to the electronic soundtrack in full wetsuit. Speaking of which, the soundtrack is fantastic. The CD doesn’t capture the full effect, sadly, padding out Mark Mothersbaugh’s ethereal sounds and Seu Jorge’s Brazilian versions of David Bowie songs with over-familiar cuts like the Bowie originals—who doesn’t already own Hunky Dory? (You? Go and buy it immediately.) Anyway, great music, great movie—better than The Royal Tenenbaums, even.

Wonder Boys on DVD had something of the same tone as these two, but didn’t do as much for me. Tobey Maguire is always watchable, and Michael Douglas usually is too, but this portrait of a writer/academic and his effortlessly brilliant student never quite took off; odd, considering that a key scene hinged on a convenient gust of wind.

Flirting with Disaster and Meet the Fockers

Flirting with Disaster, another oldie on DVD, was a chance to catch up on the early work of David O. “Huckabees” Russell and Ben Stiller. Good timing, because Stiller’s Meet the Fockers came out not long afterwards, and was uncannily reminiscent of it, with Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand playing the hippy parent roles established in Flirting by Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin. Still, they were both good fun. Fockers added little to the entertaining Meet the Parents, but the cast were all enjoying themselves, and it was a harmless way to pass a couple of hours. Good to see Streisand on the big screen again, too; and to see MEET THE FOCKERS in huge letters on the sides of buses for a few weeks.

[This is getting too long and taking ages. So, End of Part One. Please enjoy some refreshments from our Candy Bar.]

26 July 2005 · Film

Fill your heart with love today/ Don't play the game of ti-hime!
Things that happened in the past/
Only happened in your mind...

Just felt moved by the mention of Hunky Dory. I loved Rushmore but found The Royal Tenenbaums to be too scattershot to have much effect, so I wound up passing on The Life Aquatic. But it sounds like it should be given its fair shake.

Added by BT on 27 July 2005.

Actually I agree with you about Sideways - looked at objectively, the plot has its unlikely aspects, but while I was watching it they didn't obtrude. It's not often these days that I can completely suspend my disbelief and become absorbed by a film as though it were real, but Sideways achieved that.

I didn't think I would like The Life Aquatic, although I loved The Royal Tenenbaums. But my sister rented it on the evening of July 7 to cheer us up, and weirdly enough, it was just what we needed. I will never look at Willem Dafoe in quite the same way, though - his Klaus was a wonder. He has hardly any lines, he starts out as a stereotype, and then he's one of the most touching characters in the whole film...

And Owen Wilson acting sweet and earnest was a revelation also. And I want one of those seahorses.

Added by Kirsten on 27 July 2005.