A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 549 – Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko – August 31st, 2011

Gee whiz am I glad that I didn’t see this movie when it came out. Not because it’s a bad movie. On the contrary. But at the time it came out I was still dealing with some pretty nasty depression and let me tell you! This movie would not have inspired me to look on the bright side of life. In fact, at the end of it I watched the credits and thought “Well. What a great movie to convince people the exact opposite of It’s a Wonderful Life!” Maybe that wasn’t the outright intent, but it’s certainly a large chunk of what I got out of it.

The movie revolves around a young man named Donnie. He’s had some troubled times in the past year or so. Or maybe longer. I got the impression that it wasn’t more than a year, but not much less either. The movie doesn’t bother to make it clear and that’s okay, because ultimately it doesn’t matter how long he’s been having trouble. What’s important is that just recently he’s started sleepwalking and having hallucinations of a giant grey rabbit. Or a man in a giant grey rabbit suit. Either way. The rabbit’s name is Frank and Frank tells Donnie that the world is going to end soon. In 28 days. And he has things he needs to do. And so Donnie does them. The prior troubles Donnie’s had involved setting an abandoned house on fire and getting suspended and having to see a psychiatrist and take medication, which he doesn’t want to take. And it would be one thing for this movie to be about a teenage boy having a psychotic break and not knowing what’s real or not. It’s an entirely different thing when his sleepwalking and hallucinations keep him out of the house when a jet engine appears out of nowhere and falls right through his bedroom ceiling, crushing where he would have been.

It’s an event like that which lends credence to a paranoid mind’s obsessions. With Frank’s encouragement Donnie floods the school and sets fire to another house. He worries his parents and fights with his sister. At home he seems to be a typical teenage guy. I knew plenty of teenage guys who fought with their parents and acted out. Most of them did not go on to perpetrate enormous property damage. They also weren’t hallucinating and starting to believe in time travel. So, that’s where they and Donnie differ. Anyhow, Donnie’s kind of obsessed with this whole idea of time travel and that he’s seeing things like trails showing the paths people will take. He’s still seeing Frank and Frank is still incredibly creepy. His psychiatrist is growing alarmed at his talk about Frank and the end of the world and his parents are perplexed, unsure of just what to do. Meanwhile, Donnie’s leading sort of a double life. He hangs out with his friends and gets himself a girlfriend – the new-to-town Gretchen Ross – and when he’s not seeing paths or Frank or causing destruction he appears “normal.”

It’s an odd movie, really. Because one could take it as a commentary on the nature of teen angst. It’s full of things like unrequited crushes and bullies and school officials being pressured to fire staff members for their reading list choices. It’s got a smarmy self-help guru the gym teacher’s bought into and Donnie’s a middle child with a cool older sister who’s going to Harvard and a cute younger sister who’s a dance team champ. And there’s Donnie, who had to miss some school and see a shrink and take pills. Of course he’s angry and angsty. And through it all the movie has an almost dream-like quality. It’s early autumn and school’s just starting for the year and Donnie’s not quite entirely present in reality 100% of the time. Thinking back on it now I have this impression that many things happened in slow motion even though I know it can’t be as much of the movie as I’m thinking.

The movie’s ending, which is where the time travel really comes in, is one of those endings that one could take in several different ways. It could be a time paradox, or it could be an alternate reality or it could have been imaginary or it could be all three. I know for a fact Andy interpreted it differently than I did and I hadn’t really considered his interpretation and it’s entirely possible that had I not spoken during the credits he wouldn’t have considered mine. On one hand, that sort of writing can come off as hopelessly pretentious. On the other, if handled well I think it can work without making the viewer feel baffled. And I think this movie handles it well largely because there’s enough material in the movie to work with. And that says to me that the people making the movie considered what people might interpret it as, instead of just being mysterious and hoping people made up their own meanings.

Personally, while I’m not about to tell anyone that I’m right and they’re wrong, my initial interpretation of the movie’s end is rather bleak. Well, bleak for Donnie. I meant what I said about the movie feeling like an anti-It’s a Wonderful Life. With the engine falling on Donnie instead of Donnie being out with Frank when his bedroom is crushed, it changes everything. But instead of seeing what the world would be like without Donnie, we see what it’s like with him. Sure, at least one person gets what’s coming to him, but other innocent people get hurt. Without Donnie around causing trouble the school wouldn’t flood. People wouldn’t die. So Donnie dies. And when he does the ripples through the timeline are felt by all the people affected.

It does leave the question of Frank’s identity and importance and just how he came to be Donnie’s hallucination rather up in the air. But then most interpretations probably would. Certainly the real Frank seems affected by Donnie’s death, but up until the end he didn’t seem to have much of any connection with Donnie. He was just an artist, making a twisted mask for Halloween. Who is he? Who was he? Why did Donnie see him? I don’t know. And to be honest, I prefer not knowing. I like the idea that there’s something supernatural and mysterious at work in this movie. I like the idea that regardless of the science discussed and the technical aspects of time travel, there’s something unknowable at work. For much the same reason I love that the movie is set in the 1980s. Why is it set in the 80s? Who cares? It just is. And it suits the movie. It’s not an overt stereotype of a movie. It’s a sci-fi supernatural period piece. Which works. And apparently it works for people in vastly different ways. And I like that too.

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August 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Donnie Darko

August 31, 2011

Donnie Darko

I bought this movie because I was reassured by a wide range of people how unbelievably messed up it was. And, yes, it is a strange, what with its dreamlike daze state, time travel and visions of the future. It’s more than just random weirdness though. It’s probably the quintessential movie about teen angst – and I have to admit that I absolutely love it even though I was in my thirties when I first saw it.

Donnie is a troubled teen. There’s nothing in particular wrong with his life – his family is a typical eighties yuppie clan. He goes to a clean looking school with your typical mix of wasters, pretty people and rejects. He’s prone to sleepwalking. He’s in therapy and medicated because of a senseless act of arson he committed a couple years ago. For some reason he finds himself compelled to do things and he doesn’t know why.

Then things start to get weird.

An extremely creepy rabbit named Frank appears to Donnie and tells him that the end of the world is just 28 days away. The detached engine from a jet airliner crashes through the roof of his house and into his bedroom while he is out sleepwalking. Donnie proceeds to drift farther and farther out of touch with the world, while at the same time he finds himself caught up in some kind of time-travel paradox. There’s a sense that some of his actions are predestined – he can almost see what people are going to do before they do it, and his own actions feel like something he has no control over.

On the one hand he’s being forced by the voice of Frank to do some things that are dangerous and destructive. Such as flooding the school by smashing a water pipe with an axe or burning down the palatial estate of a loathsome self-help guru. He finds himself getting his father’s gun from his closet. He takes a knife to the bathroom to try to break through an invisible wall to reach Fred.

At school Donnie becomes prone to outbursts. He talks back to his gym teacher during an insipid ethics class based on the work of a self made guru named Jim Cunningham who offers thin platitudes and sells advice about the eternal battle between love and fear. Strangely only Donnie seems to realize that Jim is a scam artist who is lining his pockets by selling his courses and lectures to the school.

Everything builds to the climactic moment where it is revealed why Frank has been haunting Donnie and why he has the bunny suit. There’s time-travel involved and a convergence of multiple plot lines in an instant that has been pre-destined since the beginning of the movie. Which is cool and all, but it’s not really the point of the movie for me.

Okay – some spoilers now. Donnie dies at the end of the film, which wraps back around to the beginning so that all the events of the movie are shown to be an alternative universe. My interpretation of the movie is that what we get to see of Donnie’s life is a sort of idealised wish fulfilment. Before he dies he gets to see what life would be like if he came out of his shell and did the sorts of things that teenaged boys wish they could get away with doing. he floods the school. He talks back to teachers. He gets the girl. he knows the answers. It’s sort of one last hurrah for him because everything comes crashing down and he has to accept his fate.

This movie is so layered and complex that it necessitates multiple viewings. It could be read as Donnie coming to grips with his fear of death and accepting that death is not such a dreadful fate. Or you could view it as wish fulfilment as I do. Of you could see it as an exploration of multiple parallel universes. I enjoy the fact that it’s ambiguous enough to be open for interpretation.

No matter how you chose to understand the film it cannot be denied that it’s wonderfully made. Richard Kelly, who went on to direct that utterly impossible to describe Southland Tales, directs here with flare and panache. This movie combines a fever-dream feel accomplished with muted sounds, cool digital effects, and lots of manipulation of the film speed with a more normal feel at times. There are lots of scenes that are very slickly edited together with intercut views of different unrelated events which heighten the tension. There are parts of the movie that feel almost like a horror film (one of my favorite moments is when Donnie is hypnotised by his therapist and is describing his terror at the impending end of the world and he looks up and sees Frank right there in the room with them. “I see him right now!” he exclaims and chills run down my spine.)

There’s a great cast of talented actors from Drew Barrymore to Mary McDonnell to Patrick Swayze. Jake Gyllenhaal really steals the show though as Donnie himself. he’s so sinister and sullen, so dangerously hard to read. You get a sense that his family and therapist don’t just not understand him – they fear him a little. It’s a fantastic performance full of desperation and pain.

Add to all that an absolutely astonishing soundtrack. Every song here is so perfectly suited for the tone and feel of the movie – even more impressive given that some of the music is apparently last minute replacements for temp tracks that the producers couldn’t secure the rights to. It makes me want to download the soundtrack right now (although in truth I don’t tend to buy compilation albums – I’m more likely to buy all the original albums the songs came from. I need more Tears for Fears and Duran Duran on my iPhone.)

The world needs more slick, inscrutable, inspired movies like this. Any movie that forces you to think about it as much as this one does for me it a big plus in my book. And of course the creepy bunny mask that Frank wears will be forever burnt into your mind once you have seen this. “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?”

August 31, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 548 – James Bond: Quantum of Solace

James Bond: Quantum of Solace – August 30th, 2011

Imagine my relief when we put this in and I realized that it was indeed picking up where Casino Royale left off. Andy had mentioned that he suspected that would be the case, but I wasn’t sure just how much would be carried over. Turns out the two are very closely connected, with some questions and issues from the first movie being answered and dealt with in the second. Alas, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but I will allow that an effort was made. I would also like to brag a little that I had this movie’s two plot twists nailed from exceedingly early on. These aren’t bad things, I’m just amused by them. Also, it helps that we’d recently watched Rango. And yes, that is relevant.

So we’re back with more Daniel Craig as James Bond, with more women and more car chases and more international conspiracies and more gun fights and more evil villains. More Bond, in other words. This time the plot is focused on the further machinations of the shadowy organization that was involved in Vesper Lynd’s death as well as an attempt on M’s life. They’re up to something and not just something small. They’re up to something big. Huge. Intricate. And, as they make plain by having M’s own personal agent try to kill her, they have people everywhere. The best part about this whole plot, and the part that really works for me on a “this is a super secret spy movie” level is that prior to the big reveal, no one in MI6 and likely none of the intelligence agencies across the globe knew that this shadowy organization even existed. Now that is a good conspiracy.

I’ve got a question about Bond: Does he normally have any angst? Because this Bond has a wee touch of it, which is expressed through his inability to leave anyone alive. In fact, his itchy trigger finger is a running theme throughout the movie. I have to hand it to the writers to set up a reason for Bond to kill everyone he encounters that doesn’t just amount to “That would make it too easy.” Because it would make it too easy. Who knows what sort of information Bond or MI6 would get out of the people he kills? And if he hadn’t killed them, M would have some proof that something was going on, which would make for less tension later in the movie. So of course he has to kill everyone and end up making it harder on himself. After all, he’s pissed off (and angsty). I don’t blame M for being ticked with him over it, but looking at it from outside the story, I’m both impressed at the whole question of whether he’s killing for revenge or just out of necessity and also a little skeptical, because really? James Bond is that angst-ridden over a woman? Right.

So Bond is off to find Vesper’s killer root out the source of this conspiracy, which takes him to places like Haiti and Austria and Bolivia, in that order. I guess there’s just a lot of travel in these movies. Which is cool. It fits the tone and all. But I can’t help but think of just how much time this is all taking. Trans-continental flights aren’t day trips, regardless of whether you have a private jet or not. Anyhow, most of the story takes place in Bolivia, where a shady supposed environmentalist named Greene (haha, get it?) is facilitating a government coup. Of course he has other aims than getting a new dictator in power, but they’re left unsaid for quite some time. This is what I was so pleased about figuring out and I will give the movie credit for it because it hints at it without saying it outright. Everything going on points to Greene and his secretive buddies trying to gain control of oil but it’s not oil that’s the resource at hand. There are clues to what’s going on, from the background dialogue of a cab driver to some otherwise unremarkable bits of landscape. And what I like most about it is that this plot isn’t as heavy-handed as it could have been. This isn’t a movie out to make a statement, but by not going out of its way to make a statement it ends up doing so far more effectively than if it had. Because it’s worked into the story and the plot is the important point. It doesn’t feel forced, so the danger feels real, so the non-message doesn’t make me roll my eyes. It’s also the sort of over-the-top manipulation that works for the world Bond inhabits.

So the story works for me, and Bond himself works, though I’m still giving the angst some serious side-eye. M is, as always, super fantastic, and Bond’s allies, Mathis and Felix, have some good moments even if they’re not present for a whole lot of the movie (I admit, I love Felix lots because he is so clearly Not Amused By Shenanigans). The villains are nice and villainous, and I do like that Greene is mostly a slimy bastard who never really gets involved in the action. All the best villains let their underlings get their hands dirty so the villains don’t have to. And that brings me to the ladies. There are two of consequence here: Fields and Camille. We meet Camille first, and she is every bit as kick-ass as I could want. Defiant and strong, with a touch of desperation that works for the character’s backstory. I like Camille. She brooks no shit from Bond or anyone else unless it suits her plans and she’s in a nice gray area for a while. Fields, alas, is more what I expect from a woman in a Bond movie. Pretty, decently capable but not kick-ass, generally perky in a not-necessarily-positive way, and ultimately doomed. Also? She falls for Bond at the drop of a hat. Were I in charge of training female agents who might ever come in contact with Bond, I believe I would devote at least a semester to lectures and workshops titled How To Avoid Sleeping With James Bond, Yes I Know He’s Suave, Really Though, Don’t Sleep With Him Because He Is a Typhoid Mary.

Fields aside, I was really rather pleased with this movie. My only remaining quibble with the movie is the handling of the loose lends left in Casino Royale. It’s not so much that there were loose ends as that I don’t feel that the holes I spotted were ever handled as holes. Yes, in this movie we do find out what happened to the boyfriend and we do get confirmation that Vesper was indeed duped. But we still don’t know what deal she made and whether she knew what the truth about the boyfriend was. And that’s never touched on. I guess I find it frustrating because I really liked Vesper. She was a good character and while Camille is certainly fantastic and I greatly enjoyed watching her in this movie, Vesper was clearly intended to be shown as a match for Bond. I don’t argue with her not sticking around. The series is about Bond, after all, not Bond and Lynd. But if she’s going to be such an integral part of two separate movies and the new Bond that Daniel Craig is playing, then I’d like to think her story would be treated well. Can’t have everything, I suppose, and in the grand scheme of things this really was an enjoyable movie.

August 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

James Bond: Quantum of Solace

It’s the James Bond reboot sequel with a silly name.

August 30, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 547 – James Bond: Casino Royale (2006)

James Bond: Casino Royale (2006) – August 29th, 2011

I have an admission to make: I have never watched a Bond movie from start to finish. Cue the gasps of horror. I know. It’s one of those things I always mean to do and never get around to. I’d be most interested in seeing the Connery movies, because Sean Connery is fucking awesome and I love him. But while I’ve seen bits and pieces and I’ve absorbed much of the tone and concept and character through cultural osmosis, until this movie I had no sat down to watch a full Bond flick. I will say, I’ve also gotten some assumptions in my head about how female characters in said movies are treated, and that’s a bit of a turn-off, but I was game for this tonight.

Alas, I found my assumptions were still somewhat justified. While there were no naked female silhouettes during the opening credits, the female characters with lines were treated pretty much the way I expect. Oh, the female lead, Vesper, gets more than a few good lines and moments, but in the end we’re talking doomed femme fatales. And M. But I dare someone to try and make Judi Dench a doomed femme fatale. She would kick the ass of anyone who attempted it and I would cheer her on. Anyhow, I didn’t expect there to be any more than what I got and what I did get was much better than what it could have been, it’s just frustrating.

Moving on. The point of the movie is, obviously, James Bond himself, being awesome and kicking ass in a multitude of ways and getting the job done. A job with high stakes and lots of bad guys and guns and money and so on and so forth. In this particular movie the story is about terrorists planning bombings and Bond tracking down who’s responsible for funding them and what larger plans and conspiracies they have in place. And how does Bond achieve his goals of thwarting terrorism? By chasing people through crowded streets, sleeping with his target’s girlfriend, enduring torture and playing poker. If it wasn’t done as well as it has been and if it wasn’t one of the origins of the super suave spy, it would be amusing. All that, and he looks good in a tux.

So, there’s a lot of action, with chases and fights and Bond generally being multitalented and clever and skilled at all manner of actiony things, like shooting guns and driving vehicles and fighting hand to hand. And then there’s the card game. At one point earlier in the movie Bond establishes himself as a good poker player, winning a car off of one of the baddies in a game. At that point Andy mentioned “there is a lot of card playing in this movie.” Which yes, there is. After all, the title is Casino Royale. I sort of expected card playing, since you could only get so much mileage out of Bond sitting at a roulette wheel or playing slots. A high stakes poker game seemed much more likely, and that’s exactly what happens.

The poker game and the immediate lead-up to it really are what I consider the meat of the movie. For one, on the train to Monte Carlo we meet Vesper Lynde, our female lead. And I like Vesper, even if her story is convenient and lazily handled in the long run. She’s strong and smart and while she does warm up to Bond eventually, she’s not about to let him charm her from the get-go. She’s perfectly capable of holding her own against him in a battle of wits and in the end he only figures out what she’s up to because she set it up for him to figure out. Eva Green has a wonderful little smirk for much of her performance and in many other movies that smirk would be too much. But in scenes where she’s turning the tables on Bond’s attitude? It’s perfect. So with Vesper at his side, Bond heads to the poker table to face off against the villain of the movie: Le Chiffre. And the game itself is nice and tense. I’m sure I’d appreciate it more if I knew the game better, but I’ve never been terribly interested in poker. As it is, I was glad of the dealer showing the hands as they were revealed and explaining what was winning with at least a hint as to why. Nicely done for us poker-illiterate viewers! And along with that there was the game-interrupting poisoning scene, a scuffle with a couple of terrorists during a break and the revelation that another player at the table was working for the CIA. All in all, it was precisely what I expected and wanted out of the movie, which I could say goes for the entire film.

To be honest, what most shocked me about this movie was how varied the locations and moods were. It bounced around a lot. Black and white intro in a high rise, chase scene on foot in Africa, beachy resort with lots of quiet backstabbing and sex in the Bahamas, action chase scene in a fuel tanker at an airport in Florida, casino scene in Monte Carlo, torture scene, recuperation in a hospital somewhere, romance in Venice, then action in Venice. That’s a hell of a lot to fit into a single movie, which is probably why it’s over two hours long. The plot is winding, going from a planned bombing in Africa to another planned bombing in Florida to the Texas Hold’em game in Monte Carlo. And then it doesn’t end there. The game isn’t the end. It takes up a lot of time, but it’s not the end. After the tension of the game the movie just keeps going. Are all Bond movies paced like this? Slow then fast then slow then fast? Action, romance, action, tension, torture, romance, action? It just strikes me as strange, I suppose. A bit of a roller coaster, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it.

I do know that I’m frustrated by the end of the movie and by the lack of information on Vesper. It feels incredibly easy to have set her up to double cross Bond, then have M say “Oh, it wasn’t her fault. They were holding her boyfriend to force her to cooperate. And she’s dead now, so no mess!” For one, what happened with the boyfriend? I assume he’s dead. Vesper just sort of gives up on him mid-movie and switches her affections to Bond. And then M suggests to Bond that Vesper made a deal with the terrorists so that the two of them could go free. But if the terrorists already had her boyfriend, what more would they need from her? I can think of a few ways to resolve it (they’d killed the boyfriend but she kept working for them to save Bond, or perhaps she worked with them on making Bond lose in exchange for her boyfriend’s life, then made a new deal to steal the money in exchange for Bond’s life and her own?) but neither what I can think of nor any other explanations are ever offered by the movie. Which is a shame, because it wouldn’t have taken a whole lot more. Just another line or two of exposition from M. But the movie just doesn’t care. Which I find intensely irritating. I liked everything else about it and it went to the length of giving Bond some actual character development! It had action and clever dialogue and tension. And then a major character’s backstory and the key to her actions? Nah, no big deal. So I enjoyed the movie, but it did leave me rolling my eyes a little.

August 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

James Bond: Casino Royale (2006)

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August 29, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 546 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair – August 29th, 2011

Where the current series of adaptations has stopped and gone back, the BBC series went on for one more in the timeline while they still had the actor who played Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at the right age for The Silver Chair. I can’t fault them that, though I have to say that this is my second least favorite of the Narnia stories (the very least favorite being The Horse and His Boy, which I could never quite get into). It’s not the concept so much as the characters. And it’s not the characters in general so much as Jill Pole. I want to like it a hell of a lot more than I do and that’s frustrating.

The thing about the earlier stories is that they’re mostly about grand adventures in the wondrous land of Narnia. The children brought through from our world to Narnia have a sense of epic destiny and importance. And while there’s plenty of danger to go around, there are also friendly allies and the general knowledge that the heroes aren’t alone. This story, on the other hand, is rather dire. And made more so because of the air of missed opportunity. Eustace Scrubb returns to Narnia in this story, having entered when he and a schoolmate, Jill Pole, wanted to get away from some bullies. The thing is, their adventure starts quite differently than all the others. They start in Aslan’s country. And instead of organically finding out what needs doing by exploring in Narnia, Aslan sets out specific tasks for them. Tasks they mess up at every opportunity.

On one hand, things go awry as soon as Eustace and Jill arrive, so perhaps if they hadn’t, Aslan would have just sent them on their way without any instructions and trusted that they’d figure it out along the way. On the other hand, he didn’t drop them directly into Narnia, so I take that as an implication that he was planning on talking to them at the outset anyhow. Regardless, Jill earns some distinct grumbling from me when she shows off, makes Eustace fall over the edge of a cliff and then has such trouble remembering four simple directions from Aslan that she arrives in Narnia too late to convince Eustace of the first one. And that right there sets the tone for the whole thing.

The purpose behind Eustace and Jill being in Narnia this time is to save Caspian’s son, Rillian, from a witch who has kidnapped him and imprisoned him for years. Caspian is now old and sick and they witness him leaving to sail out to the islands, Eustace not realizing that the elderly king is his old friend. Of course, the first instruction Aslan gave Jill was to tell Eustace the first person he saw would be an old friend and he should go to him at once to get the help they’d need for their quest. Jill gets there late, Eustace doesn’t understand what Aslan meant and Caspian sails off without speaking to him. No help for them! Fortunately for them, the talking owls help them out, deciding that the assistance they need is a Marshwiggle.

Now, Puddleglum the Marshwiggle is one of my favorite parts of this movie, and not just because he’s played by Tom Baker, though that is certainly amusing. But he’s one of the few touches of Narnia in the story, since the adventure itself takes Jill and Eustace far to the north. He’s much like Trumpkin the Dwarf was before he believed in Aslan. Very pessimistic and talking down much of what he encounters. But he’s also quite brave and he knows more about the land than either of the two human children, so he’s a good companion to have on an adventure like this. So with Puddleglum in tow, they set off northwards to find the missing prince and return him to Narnia.

And as they go, Jill manages to forget pretty much everything she was told by Aslan. She and Eustace fight and bicker and prod at each other constantly. Puddleglum’s dour and negative nature eventually wear the two others down and they start ignoring his advice. They miss two instructions and end up almost eaten by giants. And through it all I can’t help but think “If Lucy was there, she’d have found Rillian, brought him back and thrown a party by now. Get on with it!

Now, I’m pretty sure that’s the story itself as written. As I said, I’m not as fond of this one as I am of the first three and the last two, so I haven’t read it as many times as I’ve read the others. But given how faithful the other BBC adaptations were, I expect that holds true for this one as well. Which means I can lay it all at C.S. Lewis’ feet. On one hand, I understand that after writing the first three, with the Pevensies and grand armies and adventures with kings and all, writing a different type of adventure must have been nice. They can’t all be romps with royalty through beautiful Narnia. There’s a widening of the world here as Eustace and Jill discover places that we were never shown in the earlier stories. And I appreciate that. I just wish that these dangerous and grim lands had been explored by people a little more likeable, who could see the mysterious magic of their surroundings better than Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum do. As it is, while Eustace is a good deal better here than he was when we met him in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and I like Puddleglum as a character, Eustace and Jill aren’t a great pair. It’s as if the entirety of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was told with Lucy and Edmund traveling together, before Edmund spoke to Aslan.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s just not fun to watch this group have an adventure. The movie was shot in lovely country and I like all the ideas of there being a ruined giant city and the “gentle” giants who are only gentle in that they’ll cook you before they eat you. The underground kingdom isn’t anything terribly special, but the costumes are amusing and there’s a nice blueish cast to everything that sets an eerie otherworldly mood. I’ve got no fault with the acting. It’s not the performances that keep me from enjoying this. After all, I like the David Thwaites, who plays Eustace and I love Tom Baker ad Puddleglum and while I don’t like the character of Jill I do think Camilla Power did well with her. And then there’s Barbara Kellerman as the witch. And I really kind of love that the White Witch, Green Witch and the hag from Prince Caspian are all played by the same person, as if all the witches in the stories are one force. It’s the story. And since the BBC sticks close to the stories with these adaptations, there really wasn’t ever going to be anything to help that.

August 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair (BBC)

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August 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 545 – The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (BBC)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (BBC) – August 27th, 2011

More Narnia tonight, and this one a real departure from the newer adaptations in that it’s been packaged as a single story even though it’s really not. I know originally it was meant to be two separate stories, but by the time it was aired in the US, it had been combined into one. The best reason I can think of is that the first part, Prince Caspian only takes two ½ hour episodes from beginning to end, whereas The Voyage of the Dawn Treader takes four and both The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Silver Chair took six each. So it makes perfect sense for Wonderworks to have stuck the two and the four together to maintain a regular schedule. Then again, if they’d had a daily half hour time slot they could have just shown the entire four story set as a run of eighteen episodes. That’s practically a full season of television. Regardless, we watched them together tonight as a single movie.

Really, they do go well together. After all, they’re linked by the character of Caspian. And it’s clear that they were intended to be watched rather close together. From what I recall of the books, Prince Caspian ends with the children all heading off on different trains to different boarding schools, whereas The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has Susan off in America, Peter visiting with Professor Kirke and Lucy and Edmund stuck spending the summer with their aunt, uncle and cousin. This adaptation, which is as faithful to the books as the first one was, has changed this one thing to bump the stories up against each other. The trip into Narnia to help Prince Caspian claim his throne here takes place as one last adventure for the whole family before Peter’s off to school, Susan’s off to America and Lucy and Edmund go to their cousin’s. And to be honest? I like what it does with the story. It wouldn’t work for a feature film, but for a serial it’s rather nice. And then too, the timeline works out nicely. Narnian time going faster than our time, it works for me to have a short time in our world mean only a few years in Narnia, as opposed to a year or so meaning the same thing when it apparently meant hundreds of years before.

So it’s clear that the two stories were meant to run into each other, regardless of whether they were packaged as a single six episode set or one two episode set and one four. And I like that. In my review of the new adaptation of Prince Caspian I complained a good deal about all the walking and talking that happens in the book. It’s tedious, to be honest. And in an slavish adaptation, it would bog down the entire story. So it’s a little truncated here. Far more present than in the new version, but it’s not allowed to overwhelm the actual story of Caspian fleeing for his life and encountering true Narnians and leading them in battle to reclaim his throne and bring faith in Aslan back to the country.

The thing is, without all the talking and walking and meandering thoughts on the nature of faith, it’s really a rather short story. Caspian flees the castle and meets the Dwarves and Trufflehunter the talking badger, who introduce him to many of the other old Narnians before they all have a wild feast on the Dancing Lawn. He uses Susan’s horn to call for help, which arrives in the form of the Pevensies, who show up at Aslan’s Howe (where Caspian and his people are already dug in) just in time to stop an attempt to resurrect the White Witch. And then Susan and Lucy head off with Aslan to wake the trees while Edmund and Peter challenge Caspian’s uncle, Miraz, to buy time before the battle. Which ends up being not so big a deal since Aslan shows up and scares everyone away before the battle really has a chance to get going. It’s accurate to the book, yes, but it’s amusing to see what the book comes to when all the talking is reduced but the rest of the plot isn’t padded out.

All of that means that Prince Caspian makes for a good introduction to the next story. It shows the differences that have come to pass in Narnia without delving too deeply, since they’re not going to be all that different for long. It introduces a character who, by the next story, will have grown into his role as King. And it primes Lucy and Edmund for going right back into Narnia, which of course they do, given the set-up I mentioned before. So almost as soon as they’re back in England, they see a painting with a Narnian ship and they’re being pulled into it with their cousin, Eustace and there’s Caspian, now a young man, sailing off on a quest.

This version is, like the others, quite faithful to the book, so there’s no additional plot here, just Caspian’s search for the seven lost lords and a trip that goes from island to island, event to event. This being a serial, the episodic nature of the story works far better than it would in a single movie. It feels right to have things happen bit by bit. They go to one island and find slavers and then they deal with that! Then they go to another island and find a different problem, deal with it, move on. Etcetera. There’s no attempt to tie everything together with a villain or additional overarching problem to solve. The only problems at hand are the missing lords and the specific issues at each location. It doesn’t quite translate out to an island per half hour episode, but near enough. And I’m fine with that. I like each island having its own story and its own problem. I like the time allowed for Eustace’s transformation and I like that he changes for internal reasons in this version, as opposed to external reasons in the other.

In many ways, this story is about individual voyages for each of the main characters. Edmund is the only one I can think of who doesn’t get a solo situation to face. But Lucy has to face down her jealousy of her sister. Eustace becomes a dragon and has to cope with his greed and attitude. And Caspian has to face the responsibility he has as a King. Edmund’s only real problem to face down is when he and Caspian argue over the island where the water turns things into gold. But then, Edmund already had his personal journey all the way back in the first story, so I forgive that and I enjoy seeing the group grow. And the movie does it all nicely. It’s lovely seeing all of the ocean scenery and I love the boat used as the Dawn Treader. The end has always disappointed me somewhat, but I credit that to the technology to do what needed doing not quite existing at the time it was made. Overall, though, I just enjoy this movie. It’s the sort of thing I can put in and watch a portion of, then go back to later and it’s perfect comfort viewing.

August 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (BBC)

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August 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment