A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 533 – Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth – August 15th, 2011

Unlike the movie from last night, this is a movie I’d been meaning to see for a long time. It was sort of a victim of overhype, but in the sense that I’d heard such good things about it and I was petrified that it wouldn’t live up to what I was expecting. I wanted it to be magical and unreal and everything that The Brothers Grimm failed at. I wanted a new fairytale I’d never read or seen before and I wanted it to feel right. And I was so worried that something about it would ring false to me. That something other people were able to accept or overlook would jump out at me and ruin it all and I didn’t want that. So I didn’t watch it.

Thankfully, this movie was everything I wanted it to be, including incredibly dark and cruel. Which fits. Have you read any of the original Grimm stories? Take a look at The Juniper Tree for a good example. These were stories meant as lessons and cautionary tales. They weren’t padded at the corners with comic relief and lessened consequences like the Disney versions. People do horrible things to other people in the old stories. Parents hurt their children and people die hideous deaths. Gruesome things happen. And I should have known that Guillermo del Toro would get the tone right. He’s clearly well versed in the feel and mood of folklore like this.

The story has all the hallmarks of a classic fairytale: A young girl off in an unfamiliar place, a sick parent and a cruel step-parent, the promise of a better life and a quest to obtain it. But it’s all set in a very real time and place, a few years after the Spanish Civil War, in the woods where rebels are still fighting and the military has set up a presence at an old mill to try and weed them out. Ofelia and her mother arrive to stay with Ofelia’s new step-father, the sadistic Captain Vidal. Her mother is heavily pregnant and the pregnancy is going poorly. Ofelia worries about her mother, refuses to accept Vidal as her new father and yearns for something more. And she is rewarded for her imagination with the appearance of a fairy who leads her to a labyrinth in the woods. A labyrinth with a strange creature inside who tells her of another world where she is a princess, lost long ago. She’s given a quest to complete three tasks to reopen the other world and of course she accepts the challenge.

Now, in older fairytales, it’s simply accepted that there’s magic in the world and that it can be dangerous but also helpful if used right. That seems to be par for the course. In this story, however, the people around Ofelia have plenty to worry about without magic and believe that she simply has an active imagination and lets it get the better of her at times. She ruins a new party dress by climbing into a hole in a treestump and getting all muddy. She disappears when she should be somewhere important. She uses folk remedies to try and help her mother. And almost all of the adults around Ofelia are dismissive at best and downright cruel at worst. Ofelia has legitimate fears of losing her mother, of what her step-father is capable of, of her new baby brother dying. And not only are the majority of the adults around her dismissive of what they claim is her imagination, but they dismiss her fears. They dismiss her.

Now, it would be incredibly easy to write off the fantasy aspect of the movie as being all in Ofelia’s head. It’s a fairly easy leap to make from fantasy to coping mechanism. And that’s all well and good. It works on that level just fine and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who wanted to view the movie in that light. Personally, however, I prefer to believe that it’s a melding of the two. That when Ofelia most needed some magic in her life to cope with the horrible events unfolding around her, the magic in the world responded. It could be argued either way, and I can see how one might lean towards the fantasy being imaginary, given that it doesn’t end up saving Ofelia’s mother and it doesn’t fix everything right from the start, but that’s just not how these stories work. There are always tasks to be undertaken and prices to be paid and monsters to defeat. If you don’t take the time to prove your worth, then you haven’t earned the help you’re being offered.

Likewise, I choose to take the ending as it’s presented to me. In a fairytale, with a magical land under the ground, there’s no reason why Ofelia couldn’t be transported there. She’s repaid for the work she did and the people left behind in the regular world don’t need to know what’s happened. It suits a story of war for there to have been such a loss. As painful as the situation must be for Ofelia’s one stalwart supporter, the amazing Mercedes, she’s not one to shy away from painful situations. The combination of magic and non-magic worlds hinged on Ofelia’s presence, so her departure leaves Mercedes to deal with the real world problems she needs to focus on. I like that there’s a separation there. That the worlds converge for the space of the story and then separate again.

And let me take a moment to praise the character of Mercedes, who is one of the strongest women I’ve seen in a movie in a while. She is fantastic and powerful and sympathetic and amazingly well presented. I loved everything about her. She is, as an adult, dealing with difficult situations that Ofelia, as a child, is not ready to handle. The two of them together are fantastically well written characters and I loved seeing them in the same movie, reflecting powerful female characters at two stages of life.

The other thing I’d like to praise, which makes the movie complete, is the visual style. It is distinctly Guillermo del Toro’s style, and that is gorgeously perfect for a story like this. I’m sure if I could spend more time on this and more time on the movie itself that I would see more and more and more details that connect back to the story itself and its meanings. It’s a rich world in both aspects, with the real world no less deep than the fantasy world, just with a different look. If the visuals didn’t work the movie would still be a wonderfully told story with fantastic characters and acting, but it would feel as if it had been cheated of much of its depth had it not looked like it does. Fortunately, the movie has everything I could have asked for and everything I hoped it would and I was very much not disappointed.

August 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pan’s Labyrinth

August 15, 2011

Pan’s Labyrinth

More than a year ago, when Amanda and I first embarked on this movie a day project, we randomly chose a movie from our stacks and that movie was Hellboy 2. (Because we wanted to watch movies in order we instead watched Hellboy first of course.) It was through those two beautiful movies that I first discovered the work of Guillarmo Del Toro, and from the first time I saw Hellboy in the theater I was a dedicated fan of his vision. (I had seen Mimic and Blade II, but I didn’t really begin to pay attention to his name until I saw Hellboy.) This movie is probably the most purely Del Toro one we own – it shows just what kind of film he can create if allowed to do something completely original and completely in his own way. The result is absolutely one of the most beautiful movies we own.

This movie has been pitched as a fairy tale for adults. I have to admit that I’m somewhat resentful that such a film should be so very rare. Yes, it is a beautiful fairy tale with fantasy creatures, a fairy princess who has been re-born as a human, magic and fairy tale tasks. Yes, it also contains scenes of violence, blood, torture and oppression which are wholly inappropriate for children. In my mind however there is no rule which states that a fantasy film has to be appropriate for a young audience. Adults need fantasy too, perhaps even more so than children.

What Del Toro has done here is wrap a young girl’s fantasy adventure up inside a stark tale of war in Spain during World War Two. Young Ofelia has come to the Spanish countryside with her pregnant mother to live with her wicked stepfather. He is a captain in the army tasked with quelling a local communist underground and he is petty, bureaucratic, violent, egotistical and thoroughly evil. Near the mill he is using for a base of operations there is an ancient labyrinth, and one day Ofelia is led by a fairy deep into the maze where she meets a decrepit old faun who greets her as the long lost daughter of the king of the underworld.

The faun tells her that she can re-gain her immortality and join her father in the underworld if she can complete three tasks before the next full moon. These are fairy tale tasks like retrieving a key from the belly of a toad which has polluted the roots of an ancient fig tree or recovering a dagger from the lair of a child-eating pale monster which is simultaneously emaciated and bloated. She also wants to find a way to help her mother, whose pregnancy is not going well and naturally she loathes her wicked step-father.

Meanwhile Captain Vidal has been clamping down on the local populace in an attempt to root out the rebels. There’s a vivid scene where he brutally murders an elderly hunter and his son because he thinks they might be in cahoots. He is becoming paranoid and desperate. Things are made worse by the fact that several of his trusted staff members are working against him, such as the kindly house-keeper who cares for Ofelia while her mother is ill and the local doctor. Vidal is absolutely the worst kind of petty tyrant and his only real concern is that Ofelia’s mother bear him a healthy son to carry on his line. Del Toro has him obsessed with his dead father’s cracked pocket watch and living in the mill surrounded by gears and cogs – he’s very much a man of the mechanical future.

That’s the kind of gorgeous, detailed visual feast that this movie is. Guillermo Del Toro has used the familiar tropes of fairy tales and given them vivid life. It’s like taking a trip into his dreams, or maybe into his nightmares. As with most authentic fairy tales there’s a darkness here. There’s blood and danger, and monsters. You can see Del Toro’s hand in everything here – it’s like his sketchbooks made real and it’s fantastic to behold.

Also fantastic to behold is Doug Jones both as the faun at the heart of the labyrinth and the sinister “pale man.” He’s such an expressive actor, able to communicate so much with an intricate wave of his hands. Even delivering his lines in unfamiliar Spanish he has a fantastic flair, it’s always a delight to see him at work.

After saying all that, however, I have to admit that I am slightly disappointed in this movie. It’s visually stunning, and it does a wonderful job of giving life to fairy tales, but I’m not sure I like the way that the fantasy fits into the real world around it. Only Ofelia ever sees anything fantastic in this movie. Everybody else is trapped in a nightmare world of violence and death. The conclusion of the movie is left very much open for interpretation but I can’t help feeling that the fantasy in the movie is more of an escape for Ofelia and not something that really makes a difference in her life or changes her circumstances. Does she learn anything or gain any strength from her adventures? I like to believe that fantasy and magic are there to improve our lives and act to make us better people, not just to offer a refuge.

That is a small quibble and a mater of interpretation more than anything else, though. This is a powerful, beautiful, magical movie, and an absolute masterpiece. It makes me sad that Guillermo seems to have concentrated more of his energies on producing of late and hasn’t directed a movie since Hellboy II. I love visiting his sad, dark, fantastic worlds and long for another chance to do so.

August 15, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 527 – Hey Cinderella! and The Frog Prince

Hey Cinderella! and The Frog Prince – August 9th, 2011

Back when we went through our stashed VHS collection, we discovered a few items that were too short to really be seen as movies but they weren’t television series and they were things we really wanted to be able to include. We’ve done one of those pairs already and tonight we thought we’d do this one. Two Muppet specials, from early on in Muppet history, both re-tellings of classic fairy tales. We thought they went together quite nicely even if they weren’t made to be shown together. As with other times we’ve done two-for-one nights, I’m going to start by addressing them separately.

Hey Cinderella!

According to the dates on the Muppet Wiki, the original airing of this actually pre-dates the original airing of Sesame Street. Stop and think about that for a moment and consider what it means for a Muppet special. The ones we see now, and have seen in the past couple of decades, are rife with familiar characters or Muppets dressed in new trappings to be something slightly different. There are in jokes referring to The Muppet Show or to Sesame Street and we’re used to all of that. But this doesn’t have those. In fact, it only has a single familiar face: Kermit. Who, according to the trivia I read, had not been identified as a frog prior to this.

It’s easy to see how Kermit became such a fixture and focal point for the Muppets. As a character he’s got a good sense of dead-pan humor and he’s likable and he’s cute and as a plot tool he narrates and serves as a lynch pin in a few places and he breaks the fourth wall to involve us, the audience, in the story. Here we have Cinderella, a familiar story that doesn’t deviate all that far from its roots. Just enough for a little bit of fun.

Cinderella, as usual, lives with her wicked step-mother and her two step-sisters. The step-sisters are Muppets, but the step-mother is not. There’s a very palpable kids’ theater feel to the step-mother. It’s the sort of acting that I think feels a little more comfortable and at home on a stage than on a screen. But as she was starring with puppets and performing an adapted fairy tale and the Muppets weren’t what they are now in terms of pulling in movie actors for the parts, it does make a lot of sense that the acting would feel that way. Cinderella’s step-mother often utters the titular “Hey Cinderella!” and you can tell it was meant to be a humorous running joke sort of thing, but I’ve got to admit, it’s always felt a little flat to me. Like the intent was to make a play on something and it never quite materialized.

Anyhow, Cinderella’s step-mother gives her all sorts of horrible jobs to do, including ridiculous ones, like scrubbing a spotless floor, which she is first to get dirty to justify the order to scrub it. So out Cinderella goes with her dog to find a muddy garden to tromp around in. Here the story departs a little so we can have Cinderella and Prince Arthur Charming meet in the garden. Arthur tells Cinderella he’s a gardener so she won’t get stuck up because she’s met a prince and they agree to meet at the ball the king is throwing and inviting everyone (but frogs) to. They’ll identify each other by wearing the same flower! How clever! How ingenious! Nothing could go wrong with that plan! So of course it does, and since Cinderella doesn’t know Arthur is the prince, when she ends up dancing with him at the ball they don’t know each other. You have to suspend your disbelief quite a lot here, and just accept that these two are genuinely clueless. And eventually we get the typical glass slipper routine, but on its side just a little since the slipper left behind got smashed and the slipper Cinderella kept got buried by her dog.

It’s a cute little story with just enough twists for fun without taking the fairy tale too far from where it started. Personally, I don’t mind a lot of departure and from what I can tell from work, kids don’t either. Telling Cinderella with dinosaurs or cowboys or through the eyes of her much more sensible sister, Edna (who wears loafers, not glass slippers) can be fun. But that wasn’t the intent here. The intent was to tell the story with a few changes made to make it a Muppet version, like the fairy godmother’s lounge act (and I do have to wonder if Bernadette Peters watched this before doing Into the Woods, because the fair godmother here is eerily Peters-like). Had this been made ten years later, I’m sure it would have been full of weirdness but the giant monster, Splurge, and his obsession with radishes are a hint to where the Muppets are headed.

The Frog Prince

This fairy tale was released after Hey Cinderella! and it’s obviously a little more polished. The puppets are more involved and the whole thing just feels like it was less of a trial run. Obviously, there are changes made to the story, but this time they’re less for humor and more for plot, which I find interesting now that I’m thinking about it. To pad out the original story, which when you consider it really isn’t that complicated, we’re given a villain in the form of the princess’ evil Aunt Taminella.

Now, as should be expected, the princess is played by a human actress, but the vast majority of the rest of the cast are Muppets. There’s Kermit, of course, narrating the story and guiding us along. There’s the king, which is the same puppet used for the king in Hey Cinderella! and which is one I got to see in person at a Jim Henson exhibit last year. And really, there’s something about seeing those puppets in person that makes them all the more impressive. Aunt Taminella is a similar puppet to the king (they’re Rolf/Swedish Chef types in general, though Taminella moves around more) and then there are a bunch of frogs. Obviously, this being a story about a frog. And the frog at the center of it isn’t, as one might think, Kermit. It’s his nephew, Robin. Except here he’s not Kermit’s nephew. He’s a knight named Sir Robin the Brave (which made me think of Monty Python every time he said it) who was cursed by an evil witch. Three guesses as to who that evil witch is.

Taminella’s been up to quite a bit of trouble here, cursing Sir Robin, tricking the king into thinking she’s his long lost sister, cursing the princess to only speak in Spoonerisms and other nonsense, all to gain control of the kingdom. I do love the scene where she convinces the king she’s his sister. This king character is all gruff bluster and is none too bright and regardless of the name change, he’s the same basic character in this as he is in Hey Cinderella and I do enjoy him. So anyhow, it’s up to Sir Robin the Frog to convince the princess to take him in and give him a kiss and break the curse on the princess herself before Taminella becomes queen.

It’s a cute little adaptation of a classic story, much like Hey Cinderella! was. The Muppet characters are all nicely realized and I don’t even mind the songs. The human actors are just fine, especially given that they were playing against frogs and purple witches and the like. Also? This movie has Sweetums! And I do so adore Sweetums. It’s a good show of just how much more polished the Muppets had become in a short span of time.

August 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 497 – A Little Princess (1986)

A Little Princess (1986) – July 10th, 2011

I first saw this adaptation when I was a young girl. I saw it on television as part of the Wonderworks series on PBS and I instantly fell in love with it. This afternoon when we put it in (it’s quite long, so we started it early) and the Wonderworks music came on and there was a trailer for the BBC adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and then the music for this movie started. Suddenly I was transported right back to my childhood, watching this on my parents’ tv and re-enacting it with my Playmobiles on the bed. What? I had the Victorian Playmobiles. They were awesome and it was a lot more fun than just watching the movie.

I’m not sure exactly what it is that drew me into this version, specifically. I’ve also got a favorite version of The Secret Garden, though I didn’t see it on Wonderworks (it was a Hallmark special, oddly enough). There was just something about it that drew me in. And as an aside, I loved everything I ever saw on Wonderworks. This, the Narnia specials, The Box of Delights, How to Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days and the bizarre Konrad. Thinking about it now, those are all based on books. And from what I can remember of the ones I haven’t seen recently and what I know of the ones I have, they’re all fairly faithful adaptations of the books. So too with A Little Princess. The biggest change I can think of off the top of my head is that Sarah is a bit older in this than she is in the book. But since I love Amelia Shankley’s portrayal of her, I’m willing to let it slide.

I hadn’t read the book when I first saw this special, actually. I did read it later on and found it far more twee than the movie was and decided I preferred the movie a bit, though I did enjoy the book. It might have been seeing all the period costumes, or it might have been the performances. It might have been that the movie is just a touch less precious than the book is, and therefore a little easier to stomach. Because it’s a sad story for a good chunk of time and making the beginning too cutesy and precious and twee just takes away from the sadness and bittersweetness later on.

It’s really not a complicated story and it’s not terribly twisty either. It begins with young Sara Crewe and her father in India, where they live. Sara’s mother died when she was a baby and she and her father are extremely close. So you know right then and there that he’s doomed. Sara’s sent off for boarding school but not before Captain Crewe gives an old friend, Mr. Carrisford, all of his money to invest in a new diamond mine. You can probably guess where that goes too. So Sara ends up at boarding school, where her father has instructed the headmistress to provide his daughter with everything she could possibly want. And when the inevitable happens and it all comes crashing in, well, Sara is left with nothing and Miss Minchin, the headmistress, puts her to work to try and recoup some of the money she’d spent out of pocket on the assumption that Sara’s wealthy father would repay her. It’s all very tragic, obviously.

What follows is the sad tale of how horribly Sara is treated after her fall from grace. Despite her overall cheerful and thoughtful demeanor, the assumption that she was terrifically wealthy and all of the trappings her father lavished on her resulted in Miss Minchin, the servants (except the scullery maid, Becky) and some of the other students seeing Sara as a snob. Not that she ever truly was, but that doesn’t make a difference when you’re dealing with jealousy. So the cook and head maid treat her horribly and Miss Minchin never misses an opportunity to remind her that she controls Sara’s life now. The jealous students get their digs in and Sara finds herself isolated, tired, hungry and cold, with only her doll, a rat and Becky for company. And when things seem to be at their worst the unimaginable happens and Sara finds herself the beneficiary of some seemingly magical charity from a mysterious gentleman who’s moved in next door. Oh, wherever could that lead? Hint: It leads to diamond mines and Carrisford and Sara leaving Miss Minchin’s forever.

The twists and turns aren’t the reason for watching this. And they’re not the reason for reading the book either. They’re not so much twists as predictable but still emotional ups and downs. You know that Sara’s pampered time at the school can’t last forever or what’s the point of the story? And you know that her misery as a destitute orphan can’t last forever either because these sorts of books always have somewhat happy endings. The purpose for watching is to see how it all comes to pass. To see a bit of a Cinderella story, set in a Victorian London boarding school. And for me it’s to watch something so familiar and comfortable that I could recite it from memory, all three hours of it. I know precisely what is going to happen at each and every moment of this story. I know the intonation used by Miss Minchin to berate Sara and I know the nasty looks given to Sara by students Lavinia and Jessie. I could have described Sara’s early room and the attic she ends up in and I can recall every dress she wears. It’s that sort of movie for me.

The trick with a movie that’s a very faithful adaptation of a book is that it’s difficult to critique the movie without critiquing the book as well. After all, I don’t want to just nitpick the differences between the two – not that there’s much to nitpick aside from character ages and spans of time – but I also don’t want this to be a critique of the book. After all, it’s the movie I’ve just watched (and loved again). But it’s difficult, because as with The Merchant of Venice, many of the issues I have with this movie are rooted in the source material. I love the performances here, with the pinched and sour Miss Minchin and the thoughtful and imaginative Sara. And I hold a special place in my heart for Carrisford, who is played by Nigel Havers and is likely the source of my thing for men with prominent and handsome noses. The cast is excellent, and peppered with people that I recognize from other television shows and BBC serials. I was amused to realize that Jessie – the lackey of school bully Lavinia – is played by Joanna Dukes, who is the fantastic Maria in The Box of Delights. Amelia Minchin is played by Miriam Margolyes, who’s had probably the most visible role from this cast as Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter films. Lavinia herself is in another movie we own, The Worst Witch, again playing a bully. Poor girl was typecast in only two roles. But they’re all spot on perfect in my opinion. I believe every emotion on display here, even with the noticeable ADR work done on some of the girls during the classroom scenes. I suspect that Amelia Shankley was a large part of why Sara’s age was changed here, because she is perfect for Sara but clearly older than seven.

My problems here are problems with the time period the book was written and takes place in. It’s Victorian England and so the class structures are of course going to be an issue and oh yes, it’s all very magical that Sara gets to leave the school and be an heiress, and then she invites Becky to join her! As her maid. Oh boy! Becky is, of course, thrilled! There’s a lot inherent to the story that depends upon Sara always being well-bred and well-mannered in a way that of course no “true” servant could be. That being said, there’s a good lesson here that the people who are in service positions are still people, no matter what their parentage. Sara herself says at the end that she thinks she learned more to appreciate money and what it does. It won’t buy happiness but it will keep you fed and she’s learned not to take that for granted. She wasn’t spoiled, but she was certainly privileged and ignorant of what that meant. It’s just that the time period of the story – and the movie’s faithfulness to it – mean that she’s always going to be upper class and no matter how much she helps those poor unfortunates like Becky, they will assuredly be thrilled to be allowed to wait on her.

None of the class issues really penetrated for me when I was a child and watching this over and over and over. But I think it did impress upon me that everything I had could well disappear if disaster struck, and that I should appreciate what I had. Which is a nice little lesson to teach children, even if it is explicitly spelled out by the heroine. Sledgehammer or no, it’s still a nicely performed and nicely presented film and it definitely sparked my imagination when I was young. I would gladly put it in again to keep me company on a rainy afternoon and since we own it and now know it’s in good shape I just might.

July 10, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 477 – The Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm – June 20th, 2011

We saw this movie in the theater, you know. It’s a Gilliam film and it has Heath Ledger and Matt Damon and Jonathan Pryce! It’s a twisting and retelling of classic fairytales! How could we resist, right? Because those all sound like the makings of a fun movie. I certainly enjoy new takes on old fairytales and the cast has quite a few names we enjoy. So off to the theater we went. And rarely have I left a theater feeling as let down as I did then. It’s immensely frustrating and at the time I couldn’t even really articulate why. And given that at the time I wasn’t taking any classes in film analysis and I wasn’t working on a project like this, I didn’t bother trying. Tonight it seems I will have to.

Really though, it’s difficult to put my finger on it. There’s just something so off about this movie. It’s not the premise, which I enjoy. According to this movie’s version of the world, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm weren’t just traveling around researching folktales. They were a couple of con men using local legends to scare villagers into paying them to get rid of ghosts, monsters and witches, all of which were fabricated by the Grimms and their assistants. And along the way Jacob gathered a wealth of information and stories until they happened upon a story that wasn’t just a story but was real. That’s a great idea! I would be totally on board with that!

The trouble is that in order to force Jacob and Wilhelm into actually investigating a real supernatural disturbance, the movie gives them a real life antagonist. Two antagonists, actually. There’s the French General, Delatombe (played by Jonathan Pryce) and his associate, an Italian assassin named Cavaldi. They capture the brothers, sentence them to death for fraud, then offer them a deal if they will investigate a series of missing children and prove there is no supernatural cause for their disappearances. So off Jacob and Wilhelm go and of course there is a supernatural cause for the children’s disappearances and they have to use what they’ve learned of folklore to save the day. The thing is, here, that the movie divides its antagonism between the supernatural and the mundane. They go up against the evil queen in the tower in the enchanted forest while pursued by Cavaldi and his men. They attempt to rescue the missing children while Delatombe is interested in ordering them tortured. It’s so split and scattered and I would far rather have had the real world stuff be the impetus without getting in the way later on. They’ve got enough to deal with when it comes to the queen in the tower – or they should.

Which brings me to my next issue. The queen in the tower is a fantastic melding of elements we’re all familiar with. She’s in love with her own image, stating that she is the fairest of them all. She wants eternal youth. But she’s also isolated high in a tower and has grown the most luxuriously long hair. I very much like Monica Belluci’s performance here (much as I like almost all the performances, actually) but she’s just not given enough to work with. This should be the story of how Jacob and Wilhelm discovered that the fiction they’d spent years researching was truth after all, but the queen just isn’t given enough time or space to be the true villain of the movie and that forces the supernatural element of the plot into a secondary position. But it’s such a fundamental part of the whole movie that it doesn’t fit comfortably into a secondary position. So the supernatural and mundane aspects just spend most of their time not meshing at all. They’re pieces from two very different puzzles and all the pounding in the world won’t make them fit together.

To be honest, I would have preferred if the whole movie had been the supernatural stuff. Lose the French military and torture chamber and Italian assassins and all that nonsense and just railroad Wilhelm and Jacob into the situation with the villagers themselves! There’s even a strong willed and highly-skeptical-of-them woman in place to give them a reason to stick around (of course they both fall for her) or, alternatively, to keep them from leaving since her sisters were the first children to disappear. And she’s a trapper and knows how to use lots of sharp instruments. If the whole movie had stayed in the realm of fantasy then maybe it would have worked.

Because, you see, I like the whole rivalry between the brothers, with Jacob being the scholar who’s truly fascinated by these stories and Wilhelm being the practical one who’s using them to make a living (a dishonest living but a living nonetheless). There’s plenty of material for them to butt heads over here and Heath Ledger did a wonderful job as the bookish and somewhat timid Jacob while Matt Damon was a lot of fun as the forceful and outspoken Wilhelm. They play off each other nicely and I enjoy watching their scenes together. I’m even willing to allow for Angelika as a point of rivalry between them because she is otherwise an extremely strong character who could kick both their asses without breaking a sweat and saves said asses at least once, so she’s more than just a damsel and she’s played very nicely by Lena Headey. Yes, some of the fairytale references are somewhat forced, like the Gingerbread Man bit, which just seems goofy. It’s not like the original Grimms stories aren’t full of disturbing ways in which children can disappear. And I’m sure Gilliam knows many of them, if not all. But I can let that pass. What I can’t let pass is Cavaldi.

Now, I will not blame Peter Stormare for this entirely. Yes, it’s his performance, but well, the character was written to be a mix of villain and comic relief. And I just can’t quite see the combination of torturer and assassin with bumbling buffoon. It makes both the buffoonery seem bizarrely sinister (and not in a fun way) and the torture seem more foolish than it should be given that it is truly threatening. Stormare didn’t write this part for himself. And when Cavaldi makes a rapid 180 mid-climax and switches sides, telling Delatombe that he wishes to resign? I’m just left baffled. He was given so little screen time with lines that made it possible to see such a switch as believable. Sure, Jonathan Pryce gets an odder character in the overly-accented Delatombe, who enjoys eating freshly ground kitten and cheerily burns forests to the ground. But Cavaldi gets more time. It’s just not the time he needs in order to be a good character.

I just wanted so much more from this movie than it gave me. I wanted Gilliam-esque fantasy with oddities and strangeness and his take on the fairytales we all know. And I love the mirror queen and how the huntsman fits in, and the wolf, and then there’s the horrific spiderweb horse and the crows. The fantasy elements work for me. I can even handle the minor comic relief of Mackenzie Crook and Richard Ridings (who has one of the most distinct voices I’ve ever heard) because I like both actors and because truly, they belong with the Grimms in the forest. But instead I got not enough of what I did want and a whole pile of what I didn’t want and it didn’t come together well enough. It didn’t really come together at all.

June 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

June 3, 2011

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

This movie is a strange, unsettling, and wondrous unique gem. Much like the confectionery magician Mr. Wonka himself.

I had not realized until watching this tonight that the first draft of the screenplay for this movie was actually written by Roald Dahl. I guess I had just always had it in my head that this film was such a departure from the book, and I knew of Mr. Dahl’s legendary disdain for the final product. Even the title of the movie doesn’t match that of the book. I was surprised when during the opening credits it declared that he had done the screenplay as well as the book the movie is based on.

I have so many memories and associations that blend together when I’m watching this movie. I remember how creepy and disturbing I found the movie on my first viewing of it on television in the early eighties when I was eight or nine years old. Particularly how much the capering of the orange and green Oompa Loompas fueled my nightmares. I have fond memories of re-discovering the movie in my teenage years when I had a chance to watch it on VHS and begin to appreciate it for the insane genius that it is. Of course most of all I remember growing to completely love Gene Wilder’s portrayal of the mad genius himself.

This is, after all, his movie. We don’t even get to see Willy Wonka until the movie is a third over, but Wilder’s performance is so mesmerising, so charming, so sinister that he overshadows everything else. This movie isn’t Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – it’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It’s a movie that celebrates a crazy man who lives in his own fantasy world creating unique and somewhat mad inventions for children. In truth that’s pretty much how I picture Roald Dahl himself. I always imagine him in my head with a giant Salvadore Dali mustache (I know he looked more like the illustrations of the BFG, it must be the last name similarity that does it.) There’s one segment of this movie – during the Wonkatania journey through the dark tunnel – where random and unsettling images are projected behind the actors and it reminds me of nothing so much as Un Chien Andalou. In my mind the three insane geniuses, Wilder’s Wonka, Dahl and Dali, blend through this movie and become almost reflections of each-other.

Need I sum up the plot? I would hope that most people were pretty familiar with at least one form of this story by now be it the book or one of the two movie versions. Young and destitute Charlie Bucket has been raised by his Grandpa Joe with tales of the amazing Willy Wonka and his maddeningly secret chocolate factory where nobody ever goes in or comes out and the most amazingly impossible confectionery creations are constructed. One day it is announced that Mr. Wonka will actually allow five lucky people (each to be accompanied by a family member) to visit his factory and win a lifetime supply of chocolate. The winners will be those lucky enough to find five golden tickets hidden inside Wonka branded candy bars.

The first third or so of the movie details the mania stirred up by the golden tickets and Charlie’s sad life of desperate poverty. (As an aside: I have always said that I felt J.K. Rowling cribbed the start of the first Harry Potter book from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The lives of young Charlie Bucket and young Harry Potter are full of similar extremes with Charlie’s four grandparents sharing a single bed in his one room house while Harry is living with the spiders under the stairs. Even Rowling’s writing style at the start of the Potter series reminds me of Dahl’s prose.) Each of the five lucky tickets is found by a different child, with Charlie being the last of course.

Then the rest of the movie is the tour of the chocolate factory itself which is an utterly insane wonderland of fantastical inventions and OSHA violations. It’s a kind of strange morality tale where each of the children suffers a grizzly fate as a result of their particular vices. There’s an over-eater, a gum chewer, a spoiled brat and a TV obsessed couch potato. (The impact of the moral is somewhat lessened in this particular telling since Charlie and his Grandpa Joe also succumb to temptation and ignore Wonka’s sage advice at one point. I’ve never liked that about this movie.)

There’s so much that is magical about this movie though. I watched it tonight with an eye towards trying to figure out what portions of the script were Dahl’s, and his signature is all over the movie if you’re looking for it. Particularly in the first half of the movie I felt his dry sense of humor in many of the television news casts following the fervor created by the golden tickets. There are several sort of short stories intended to show just how obsessed people have become over Wonka bars – such as the last case of bars in the UK being auctioned off or the woman whose husband has been kidnapped and is being ransomed for her unopened Wonka bar collection. These felt very much like the kind of twisted thing that I associate with Roald Dahl.

When Gene Wilder finally shows up on the screen though, after all that build up, he effortlessly takes command and from there on out it is his movie. Yes, the chocolate factory is mad and wonderous. Yes the Oompa Loompas are strange and disturbing. Yes, the young actors portraying the five children area ll quite impressive. It is Gene Wilder however, with his classic transformations from restrained to manic, that makes the movie what it is.

I won’t say that the film is without flaw. The songs sometimes make the movie too cloying for me and hurt the overall pacing. (Particularly the candy man song and the long song Charlie’s mother sings.) The special effects of the day (1971) are not particularly special, and the sets, although clever, are clearly held back by budgetary restraints. (The exception to both these issues is the “World of your Imagination” song in the spectacular candy wonderland set with its river of chocolate, giant gummi bear trees and edible flowers and lollipops. That’s the high point of the whole movie for me.) I hate to harp on it the Oompa Loompas are simply terrifying, and nothing at all like how they are described in the book. (Although the pygmies described in the book probably would raise a whole other slew of issues.)

Those issues cannot prevent this movie from being simply wonderful though. There just are not many cautionary tale/musicals for children out there. And certainly not many with performances as captivating and entertaining as Gene Wilder’s here. It was a treat to watch this again tonight, and I’m looking forward to watching the Tim Burton re-make tomorrow.

June 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 452 – Muppet Classic Theater

Muppet Classic Theater – May 26th, 2011

The other night when we watched The Princess and the Frog Andy realized that we didn’t have the Muppet version of the story on our list. And he knew we owned it. I was sure we did too. On VHS. We’d bought a bunch of Muppet movies and specials on VHS early on in our relationship and we knew we hadn’t gotten rid of them so why weren’t they on the list? The answer is that they’d been stashed with a pile of other VHS cassettes in the shelves under the television in the living room and then other things got stashed in front of them and well, we forgot to inventory that stuff when we made our big list. Oops. So we dug through the tapes, added a bunch of things and aren’t we glad we did?

We’ve both got an early morning tomorrow and I’ve got to go to the dentist again and it’s hot and sticky here and I had a headache and I needed something short and familiar and easy and fun. And here this was! Just waiting for a night like this. We hadn’t seen it in a long while (as evidenced by its hiding place under the television) and it wasn’t rewound! Horrors! And then the unthinkable happened: Our VCR tried to eat the tape. That horrible, terrible, hideous noise of a tape being eaten is so painfully familiar and yet we hear it so infrequently these days. Fortunately both Andy and myself have plenty of experience fixing videocassettes. In fact, I still do it at work on a fairly regular basis, babying my dwindling VHS collection for the last few people who come looking for them. So we cracked it open, untwisted the poor magnetic tape and off we went to a land of fairytales and Muppets.

I’ve always enjoyed the Muppet version of parody. The Muppets take on stories we all know all the time. Familiar styles, familiar songs, familiar stories, all told with the Muppet twist. Which means plenty of singing and flailing and horrible puns and Muppet weirdness. The Muppets have done classic stories before. They did the Frog Prince and Cinderella, of course, and they do great jobs with short pieces, as evidenced by The Muppet Show, which is essentially sketch comedy. So this is a collection of stories, quick and fun, each with a song, each familiar enough that the send-up of it isn’t going to throw anyone off. And I’ve got to say, which overall I really do like this? A couple of them stand out as a lot better than the rest.

Rizzo and Gonzo take up the job of hosting a theatrical event. The conceit is that the Muppets are putting on a show of six short stories in the theater with Rizzo and Gonzo both introducing and participating. The stories are the Three Little Pigs, King Midas, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Rumplestiltskin, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Elves and the Shoemakers. I’d have to say Three Little Pigs, Rumplestiltskin and The Elves and the Shoemakers are the standouts for me.

It’s not that I dislike the other three stories. It’s just that they don’t catch my interest and make me remember them as well. King Midas’ only real twist is introducing Miss Piggy and her love of wealth to the story. I do love Gonzo and his herd of sheep in The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and I admit I get the song “Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?” stuck in my head for no reason every so often. But I find the ending fairly weak and I’ve seen better twists on the base story. Though really, I want one of those sheep. I would snuggle it and pet it and use it as a pillow. And that leaves The Emperor’s New Clothes, which is a story I’m not terribly fond of anyhow. The song is slow and I expect more from the Muppet rats, so while Fozzie makes a great Emperor, I’m just not too into it.

The other three, on the other hand, are a ton of fun. Miss Piggy is an architectural genius in the Three Little Pigs and I absolutely adore her confidence and competence, which is so often ignored in favor of her love of clothes and money and fame. Maybe that’s one reason why King Midas doesn’t wow me when it follows a segment where she’s far more focused on building a secure house and making her foolish brothers admit that their sexist assumptions about her were horribly wrong and she’s super awesome. Anyhow, let’s move onto The Elves and the Shoemakers, which is out of order but I’m saving Rumplestiltskin. The Elves and the Shoemakers I enjoy simply for the horrible Elvis joke and the blue suede shoes. I know it’s silly and juvenile and obvious and I don’t care. I love the three Elvis elf Muppets.

And then there’s Rumplestiltskin. Obviously Gonzo plays the title role, with Piggy as the poor young maiden who promises him whatever he asks for in exchange for spinning straw into gold. There’s not much of a spin here. It’s the basic story except that Piggy admits the whole thing to her husband, the king, and the whole palace helps her try and come up with the name she needs. Which leads to the best number in the whole thing: Gotta Get That Name. It’s fast-paced, it’s catchy and it has the flaily ferret. I cannot not flail along with the ferret (who is center stage and goes wild during the chorus every time) whenever we watch this. He is exactly the sort of Muppet I love to see. Unnamed, only a bit line, yet stealing the scene. I believe Jim Henson would approve of him.

Overall I find this a lot of fun. Even if a few of the shorts don’t entertain me as much as the others, I do like them all. It’s just a matter of degree. There’s nothing revolutionary happening here, but there doesn’t need to be. Some of the moments seem to be a little slower than they should be, but others make up for it. It’s just a fun little bit of Muppet goodness that serves up some classic Muppets, some good villains and some well known stories so it’s easy to watch and easy to enjoy so long as you’re expecting just that. Oh, and Gonzo with goat legs. You should expect that too.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Muppet Classic Theater

May 26, 2011

Muppet Classic Theater

Boy does this bring back memories. Not memories of the Muppets, thought it’s always fun to see Muppets in action, but of the olden days of VHS. We put this into our VCR this evening and a horrifying crinkling sound came from within. The tape did not play, and the machine was rather stubborn about returning it to us. When the cassette came out at last it was not in very good condition. Oh, I’ve seen worse, but the tape was dangling out of the gate and all twisted up inside the cassette. We had to get out some screwdrivers and Amanda used her AV skillz to open the case up and un-twist the tape. Then, because the tape had not been rewound the last time we watched it, we stuck it in our dedicated VHS rewinder. When I first started working at Blockbuster we still had VHS tapes for rent and every morning we’d have an entire bank of these little machines running at once rewinding all the movies our customers had not bothered to rewind before returning them. Fond memories of a bygone day when a person could accidentally erase part of their movie collection by running a magnet over it or melt it by leaving it in a hot car. Nowadays you only really need to worry about scratching your DVDs – or having the hard drive your films are stored on become corrupted.

Anyhow, that’s all just the medium. I should spend some time reviewing this as a movie. We discovered this in a small cache of tapes that we had never added to our movie a day project and I had to debate for a bit about adding this to the list because it is so very short. This was a direct to video release from the early nineties, and it feels kind of light weight and inconsequential, but that’s part of the charm. This was one of the first Muppet productions after Jim Henson’s passing, and it’s still just fun to see the Muppet performers doing something light hearted and very much in the Muppet mode.

Like some of the more concept oriented Muppet Show episodes or the very earliest Muppet videos in our collection this is a distinctly Muppet take on some classic fairy tales. There are six short stories here: The Three Little Pigs, King Midas, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Rumpelstiltskin, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Elves and the Shoemaker. They’re all familiar stories, which makes them perfect territory for the kind of Muppet weirdness that I love best. The Three Little Pigs becomes a story about not underestimating somebody because she happens to be a girl (which you’d think people would already know about Miss Piggy.) Kermit is King Midas who only wants peace on earth, but his wife (Piggy again) wants gold, so it becomes a story about what is really important. The Boy Who Cried Wolf and Rumpelstiltskin are Gonzo stories full of silliness. Fozzie stars as the Emperor with the non existent new clothes. For the grand finale there’s the Shoemaker and the Elves, who are all Elvis, which makes for some fun impersonations and faux Elvis songs.

I have only seen this a couple times in the way distant past. I bought this when it first came out on VHS in 1992, and I have probably only watched it all the way through once or twice since then. So what startled me most as I watched this again tonight was how these catchy songs were so instantly familiar to me. As I put the tape in I was singing the “Gotta Get That Name” song already, and every single song in the movie has that kind of staying power. Each short has its own little song, and they are all fantastic. Gotta Get That Name in particular has an unshakable hook and Brian Henson completely steals the choreography as the spastic and unnamed ferret. I’d watch this entire tape any day just for that bit.

I’m so glad we own this and that we decided to watch it for our project. So what if it almost feels like skits from the old Muppet Show? That is exactly what I need sometimes. When Fozzie is parading around in his boxer shorts during the Emperor’s New Clothes bit I couldn’t help having an exchange that he and Kermit had early on in the Muppet Show running through my head “My god! The comedian is a bear!” “No he’s-a-not! He’s-a-wearing a neck tie!” Rimshot. Classic Muppets. And it’s always a delight.

May 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 450 – The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog – May 24th, 2011

How had I not realized that the basis for the story of this movie was a book? A book I have on my shelves at work right now! Except not right now because one of my regular patrons has been wiping me out of all my fairytale-based children’s novels lately and I’m pretty sure she took everything by E.D. Baker today. My point being that the whole concept of adapted fairytales has been done quite a bit in children’s literature and it’s a very popular genre. So I’m wide open to turning the Frog Prince around a bit and setting it somewhere and somewhen that the original story wasn’t. I also enjoy jazz and zydeco, so going into this I was prepped to enjoy it, at least on a superficial level.

I’ve got to say, even had this movie been a complete and utter failure on every other level, I would have enjoyed it for one single reason and that would be the line “No, that is not slime! You are secreting mucus!” This is a Disney princess movie. Or rather, I should say it’s a Disney Princess movie. It was made to be marketed to little girls. It was meant to tap into that rich vein of princess mania I see on a regular basis. The sort that leads to little girls wearing their frilly princess Halloween costume dresses on a daily basis. And this movie has mucus as a key plot point. Several years back I had a fifth grade girl come up to me at work and ask for help in determining what the use of slime was. It was part of a research project that was more intended to teach kids how to do research than to actually have them learn about a useful subject from said research. But we had a great conversation about how what we normally call slime is technically mucus. And then we talked about snot and why we have it. And I showed her articles on slime eels and a video of a slime eel turning a bucket of water into a bucket of slime. And that girl? Thought that was the most awesome thing ever. So a movie for girls that talks about mucus? I am all over that.

Really, that’s kind of subversive for what many people think of as a franchise that encourages girls to be, well, traditionally girly. I mean, Mulan notwithstanding, the gender roles in Disney movies tend to be on the traditional side. But here we’ve got a movie about frogs. Our main character, Tiana, spends a huge chunk of the movie as a frog. The movie even shows that she’s totally grossed out by frogs, as girls are supposed to be. And then? Frogs galore. Well, two frogs. Two frogs, an alligator, a bug and a whole lot of swamp, to be precise. And while I quite liked Louis the alligator and Ray the lightning bug and thought that the swamp was beautifully illustrated (and this is me we’re talking about – my snake issues mean swamps are a huge no go), you can’t get away from the fact that it is a swamp.

Now, on one hand, I can see there being some objections there. After all, the lily white Cinderella gets cute furry woodland creatures and lovely birds to come help her but African American Tiana gets reptiles and bugs? But at the same time it’s a wonderfully realized world and beautiful in its own way and I quite like that New Orleans and its surroundings were used for a movie aimed at little girls. After all, why not? It’s not like there aren’t little girls growing up in New Orleans or places with similar wildlife right now. So I can run with it. I do wish it had been a little less obviously targeted at a “missing” demographic in the Disney lineup, but then too, keeping the status quo would suck too. It’s a fine line to walk, trying to work on diversifying while not pandering. I honestly can’t say if they managed one way or another, because it’s just plain not my call and I’m not about to make proclamations that aren’t mine to make. I’ll just say that I’m sure Disney made this movie very deliberately. They make everything they make with an eye towards their franchise, but this movie is deliberate in a way that many of their prior films weren’t.

All that being said, I did enjoy it. It’s a twist on the Frog Prince story, which I’m sure you know but let’s go over it just in case. Prince gets turned into a frog. Frog meets a princess who’s lost something (usually a ball) in a pond or a well or some body of water. Frog retrieves the item on the condition that the princess kisses him. Princess reneges on the promise but eventually they end up kissing and surprise surprise, he turns back into a prince and they live happily ever after. Now, I have seen this story done in a bunch of ways. I’ve seen frog princesses and frog principals. I’ve seen the story that comes after when the prince longs for the quiet of his pond and sneaks flies after dinner. What this movie does is combine a few concepts there and mix them in with far more backstory for the princess, an Important Life Lesson for both lead characters and set it all in the 1920s in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

Tiana, our not-yet-a-princess, is a waitress who’s saving up to buy an old mill and build her own restaurant to fulfill a dream her father had for himself and for her until he died. She’s well-known and well-liked. She’s great at her job. She works hard. So hard, in fact, that she never seems to have any time to herself for fun. But she’s got a dream and a goal and she’s almost reached it. On the other hand we have prince Naveen, whose family has cut him off because he’s a leech and a layabout and has no concept of what it means to have to work. He shows up in New Orleans looking for a young woman to marry. One with money, so he won’t have to resort of getting a job. And thanks to some convenient plotting with a witch doctor who wants to gain control of the city (and allow some evil spirits to claim the souls of its inhabitants) prince Naveen ends up turned into a frog. Through a misunderstanding he turns Tiana into a frog and off they go to try and undo the curse and become human again.

I think it goes without saying that along the way they both learn about themselves and about life and the world and end up enriched by the experience. This is Disney we’re talking about. Subtlety is not the strong suit in these more recent princess flicks. Tiana learns to look for love and happiness, not just success. Naveen learns the value of work and truly caring for someone else and not just their money. They make friends with some quirky talking animals, sing some songs, escape some minor threats and of course true love prevails in the end.

No, this movie is not revolutionary when it comes to the plot. But that’s okay. I wasn’t expecting anything revolutionary to happen. It’s not intended to be revolutionary. It’s intended to tell a story that’s at the same time familiar to kids but also different enough to hold some new interest. It’s bulked up the characters and story and setting to give it a feature film length and I think it’s been done fairly well. I would have to say that the villain just doesn’t get enough time. Holding him up to my golden standard of Disney villainy – Ursula – he just doesn’t compare, even if he does get some good music. But the movie does its job and it does it fairly well. I enjoyed it quite a bit, to be honest. I liked Tiana and I liked the message and Naveen was eerily reminiscent of Pepe the King Prawn but I love Pepe so that’s cool. The music was well done and fun. The animation was flawless and gorgeous (and putting the animation and music together, I’d have to say my favorite scene was Mama Odie’s number in the swamp) and had some moments that put me in mind of the classic Disney movies. Will I be humming the tunes tomorrow? Probably not. Will this become a staple for us? Probably not. Am I glad we watched it and did I enjoy it? Yes on both counts. And am I glad that Disney made it and that it consistently leaves my shelves at work not two minutes after I put it back out? Hell yes. Every little girl needs to see a movie where the heroine saves the day with mucus.

May 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

May 7, 2011

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

The third Mariachi movie is the most epic in scale. As is implied by the title, which comes from the most epic and grand of the Sergio Leone westerns. It’s also by far the most complex of the three movies with the most characters and plots to keep track of. There’s the amoral corrupt CIA agent, his muscle and his stoolie, the beleaguered president, the army general attempting a coup, the drug cartel head funding the revolution, his disillusioned right hand man, the retired FBI officer, the hot Mexican police woman… and of course the Mariachi, who has achieved legendary status and is known only as El.

This movie starts out very much like Desperado starts out – with a character narrating the legend of El. This time it’s Cheech Maron as Belini, a low life informant being paid by the nefarious CIA agent Sands to find the ultimate hit man. Sands has this whole plot that he’s trying to set into motion. He wants to replace the president of Mexico (because the president is doing too good a job of unifying the people) so he has arranged for the Barillo drug cartel to fund a coup by general Marquez. Sands doesn’t want Marquez in power either though – which is why he needs El. There’s some kind of bad blood between El and Marquez – something to do with Carolina (who sadly doesn’t have much of a part in this movie.)

The Mariachi, meanwhile, is living in self imposed exile in a little village that has an economy based on manufacturing guitars. That’s until Sands has his goon Cucuy (the ever fantastic Danny Trejo again) hunt El down and force him out of retirement. The funny thing is that this movie isn’t so much about the Mariachi. He’s an unstoppable force of nature in this film – an unpredictable killing machine that Sands is trying to use for his own ends. But the movie it, at least from my perspective, about Sands.

This is at least partially because Sands is played by Johnny Depp with scene stealing pizazz. His casual profanity, complete sense of superiority, awful fashion sense and utter lack of a moral compass makes him such a compelling and fascinating character. And Johnny Depp makes it impossible to look away from the screen when he’s on. It’s his machinations that drive the plot and things really start to get interesting when things don’t work out as he expected.

Not to belittle the other vast talents exhibited in this film. Look at the sheer star power Rodriguez has gathered for this grand send-off to the Mariachi: Willem Dafoe, Eva Mendez, Ruben Blades (the most sympathetic character int eh film as the retired FBI agent who can’t help getting dragged back into the game. Nevermind that I can’t figure out what jurisdiction the FBI would have in Mexico), Mickey Rourke… it goes on and on.

From the powerful iconography of the Mexican populist uprising depicted that stops the military coup to the overwhelming action scenes to the melodrama of El’s rivalry with General Marquez, this entire movie is bigger, and more mythical than either of its predecessors. It has the feeling of being a modern folk tale – which is appropriate given its title. A fitting finale to the Mariachi trilogy. Even if it does make me somewhat long for a Sands trilogy to go after it.

May 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment