A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 484 – Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin (1992) – June 27th, 2011

The first time I saw this movie was in the theater. Amazingly, one year my mother allowed my brother and I to pick a movie each to go to for our birthdays. Normally, movies in theaters were a forbidden world for us, to be attended only when visiting friends whose parents didn’t mind going to theaters. So the opportunity to go to a theater twice? Holy crap. I don’t know what I picked. No recollection at all. Whatever it was, it wasn’t as memorable as this was, but my birthday came after my brother’s so he got first pick. Oh well. I still got to go.

Now, this is a Disney movie, which means it’s a severely altered version of a classic folktale. It’s not a folktale I’m as familiar with as I am with some of the other things they’ve done (and yes, I still refuse to watch Disney’s Hercules), but it’s pretty obvious that this is not traditional. No classic folktale stars anyone remotely like Robin Williams, after all. The closest I can think of to his particular brand of manic energy would be how I normally think of Loki. But we’re not in Scandinavia in this story. We’re in the Middle East, telling a story about a street thief who gets his hands on a lamp containing a genie.

Visually, this is a gorgeous movie. It uses a combination of 2D hand drawn characters and 3D rendered backgrounds and for the most part that works very nicely. There are a few bits during a daring escape from a collapsing cave where it’s obvious the folks at Disney wanted audiences to know how fancy their 3D rendering tools were, but it’s not obtrusive otherwise. I admit, I do like the old 2D animation with something a little deeper behind it. Ironically, it makes the 2D animation pop more, which is pretty neat in my opinion. But on top of that the movie has a lovely color scheme, full of rich jewel tones. Sure, the red = bad, blue = good thing has been done to death, but it’s played well here. It’s just flat out a pretty movie. I especially love all the transparency effects that are done with veils and smoke and the like. I could put this movie on mute and just watch it for the visuals and be pleased by it. But then I’d miss out on Robin Williams.

Let’s be honest here: I watch this movie for Williams. The visuals are amazing and I do like Jasmine’s independent attitude, but Robin Williams is at the heart of this movie and without him it just wouldn’t shine the way it does. Now, I’m not talking RV or Patch Adams Robin Williams. I’m talking early Robin Williams. Live standup Robin Williams. Radio broadcast Good Morning Vietnam Robin Williams. There’s a great early Williams show that I haven’t seen in years and which is apparently not available on DVD at this time and I found a laserdisc version for sale on eBay but alas, we lack a laserdisc player. And he is wild in it. And that is what I think of when I watch this movie. You can tell he improvised a ton and you can also tell that there was no way some of this stuff couldn’t be used. But much as I love his performance, let’s face it, it was not intended for kids to get. Groucho Marx, Peter Lorre, Arsenio Hall, Ed Sullivan, Jack Nicholson and more I can’t even name or remember to name, and they’re good impressions made better by the animation. But what seven year old knows who Peter Lorre was? Still, I’m not complaining. Because I do indeed love Robin Williams.

By far the musical highlight for me is the introduction of Aladdin as Prince Ali, which is sung mostly by Robin Williams. It’s a hugely fun number featuring tons of ridiculous lyrics and visuals and Williams delivers the whole thing perfectly. There are a couple of other fun numbers, but for the most part the ones that stick with me are the Prince Ali song and A Whole New World. The former because it’s awesome and the latter because it is precisely the sort of song that sticks in my head and makes me renew my vow to avoid Disney movies. It’s a wistful power ballad that melds with Part of Your World in my head to form a sort of ur-earworm. And that is what South Part: Bigger, Longer and Uncut was parodying with Up There. Which gets immediately added to the mix so that in my mind I see Satan riding on a magic carpet and combing his hair with a fork. Yeah. Like I said, this is why I avoid Disney movies.

So Aladdin meets Princess Jasmine when she’s snuck out of the palace to experience life outside the confines of being a princess. He saves her when she breaks the law without realizing it and for his trouble the evil Grand Vizier, Jafar, grabs him to help with a scheme to gain access to the magical lamp. Aladdin ends up with the lamp and a magic carpet, wishes to become a prince and then there’s a parade! Of course Jafar manages to ruin Aladdin’s plans to woo the princess (well, Jafar and Aladdin’s inept attempts at being suave). He nabs the lamp, wishes for lots of power and wealth, and you can guess that they manage to turn the tables on him and all live happily ever after. As plots go it’s not the most complicated of stories. And the lessons it’s imparting aren’t complicated either. Be true to yourself, be honest with those you care about, give people the freedom to live their own lives. I can get behind all three of those.

What I can’t get behind are the plot holes. Leaving aside the fact that I have never seen a non-evil Grand Vizier in any movie ever (as a friend of mine mentioned, it seems to be a perk of the position), there are some issues with the plot. Much as I admire Jasmine’s insistence that she be allowed to marry who she wants, when she wants, if she wants, the whole movie revolves around Aladdin trying to convince her to marry him. And the whole plot point that the law says she must marry a prince? The movie hinges on it. Apparently she’s been tossing princes out on their rears for quite some time and her father is now frantic about getting her married off by her birthday or… um… it’s never made clear, I don’t think. The law says she has to marry a prince by her upcoming birthday “or else”. And then at the end the Sultan is all “Whatever, I make the law! Marry whoever you want!” If you loved your daughter so much, genius, why didn’t you fix that law in the beginning when it was so clearly an issue? And even disregarding that whole deus ex machina sort of ending, there’s the bit with the genie and Aladdin’s last wish. Why does he have to use his last wish for the genie? Sure, he promised, but why not wish himself a prince to satisfy the law (or wish for the law to change) then hand off the lamp to Jasmine and have her wish the genie free? All fixed! It’s the sort of set of plot points that sets my teeth on edge.

All in all, though, I do enjoy the movie. Plot issues and earworms aside, it’s beautiful to watch and it’s got Robin Williams. Apparently they had a ton of extra material from Williams’ recording sessions, not all of which was appropriate for a Disney movie. Oh, how I wish for some of that stuff to leak, because I would love to hear it. Unlikely, I suppose, so I’ll have to be content with what’s actually in the movie. And what’s in the movie is really a lot of fun. Added to the great animation and visuals, it makes for fun viewing. Just beware the earworm and don’t step in any plot holes.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Movie 440 – Brotherhood of the Wolf

Brotherhood of the Wolf – May 14th, 2011

This is a movie I’ve been hearing little things about for some time. I’ve meant to watch it for ages, but it’s so long! And it’s subtitled! And it seemed pretty dark. All together that’s a pretty hefty movie viewing experience, so I put it off. And put it off. And put it off. Until tonight when we had the time and Andy suggested it and a long dark French period piece sounded like a good idea. I don’t know why it appealed to me tonight and not some other night before now, but it did and so we put it in utterly ignorant of what we were actually going to end up watching.

I’m not entirely sure how to even begin to describe this movie. It isn’t any one single type of story. It isn’t even two types. It’s a whole laundry list of genres combined into something unlike anything else I’ve ever seen before. Oh, I’ve seen period action, which is part of what this is. I’ve seen political drama, which it also is. I’ve seen political action and period political. I’ve seen mysteries and martial arts and supernatural themes woven in through intrigue and I’ve seen many combinations. But not all of them in one place. Oh, I’m sure they exist, but I haven’t seen them. But now I have seen this and it is a wonderful thing to know that it exists.

The story is apparently at least superficially based on actual historical events involving a beast or beasts that killed a large number of people in south central France between 1765 and 1767. The exact nature of the beasts responsible for the historical killings is still debated, though there were two large wolves killed at the time which seemed to stop the attacks (if you’re curious, try poking around the links in the wikipedia article on the beast). In the movie the beast attacks are merely the hook to draw the viewer into a story of political intrigue, religious fervor and a small and somewhat isolated town terrorized into submission. It appears to be a supernatural thriller but really, Sherlock Holmes might as well be in play here, for all the actual supernatural events that happen.

The main character in the movie is Grégoire de Fronsac, a royal taxidermist and naturalist who studies animals and has done quite a lot of traveling. He is indisputably the hero of our story, arriving in the area to study the beast’s attacks and to preserve it once it’s caught and/or killed. And Fronsac quickly determines that the beast is far from supernatural, but is also far from the wolf most people believe it to be. It’s something else entirely and he aims to figure it out. Staying at his side is the mysterious Mani, a Mohawk shaman whom he met when in America. Mani may not be the hero of the movie, but he is certainly awesome, kicking a fair amount of ass as well as giving some great little quips and sly looks at just the right moments. Fronsac is all well and good and I certainly liked him as the hero, but Mani’s more fun to watch, and not just because he’s played by Mark Dascascos (who is also the Chairman on Iron Chef America). Of course, since Fronsac and Mani are so determined to get to the bottom of the whole situation there will have to be something standing in their way.

I don’t think I can really go any further with the plot synopsis without spoiling things even more than I already have so I’ll gloss a little. There’s a lot more at work here than a beast attacking shepherds. The title alone implies that there’s a group involved and that group has a motive and a goal and they certainly don’t want Fronsac ruining it all. And all of that would be complex enough, but then there are the two female leads. On one hand you have Marianne, a young noblewoman whom Fronsac becomes enamoured of right from the start. She’s sheltered and young but also clever and compassionate and unwilling to be swayed by tricks and wit. She holds her own quite well for the vast majority of the movie, even in the fairly constrained position she’s grown up in. On the other hand is Sylvia, an Italian courtesan who works in a local brothel. Sylvia is, without a doubt, my favorite character in the entire movie. Mani’s a close second, but Sylvia wins, hands down.

Sylvia is ruthless and calculating and cold and brilliant and very well versed in manipulation and observation. And Sylvia has her own agenda and motives and follows her own path through the events taking place around her. She sleeps with Fronsac several times and seems to know far more of what’s going on than anyone else does. But being a woman of ill repute, she’s gone unnoticed by those who might otherwise try to silence her. Sylvia kicks ass. Sylvia is precisely the sort of character who always makes me giddy and she is played beautifully by Monica Bellucci. I loved every second she got on screen and she certainly made the entire plot more interesting and complicated and I love that.

And even after all of that I have yet to really touch on the fight scenes, which were a fantastic combination of styles and weaponry and camera work. I hadn’t been expecting the sorts of fight scenes this movie has, with beautifully choreographed stunts and enough martial arts to keep it from being just brawling and European swordfighting. Not that I’d have been disappointed with swordfighting! But that would have been expected and really, nothing about this movie is what I expected. Not the action, not the plot, not the intrigue, not the characters and not the epic quality to it.

The movie exists in several acts. There’s the first act, where Fronsac arrives and studies the situation and meets Marianne and her brother, Jean-François and the marquis, Thomas d’Apcher and all the rest of their friends, relatives and associates. The second act involves Fronsac and Mani returning from Paris to resume the hunt. And the third act is when it all comes to a head, with Fronsac exposing the whole conspiracy and exacting revenge for every wrong done against him, his friends and the people of the area. That, plus the gorgeous scenery both inside the buildings and out in the countryside make this movie feel larger and more expansive. It’s both folklore and political history wrapped into one package, a politically minded tall tale with the ultimate femme fatale and some truly awesome fight scenes and yes, it’s a little long, but it’s worth every minute.

May 14, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment