A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 599 – Persepolis

Persepolis – October 20th, 2011

This is one of those movies I’m sure I would have been somewhat curious about but never curious enough about to actually watch had we not been doing this project. The subject matter combined with the format led to it getting a lot of attention and it looked interesting, but I often shy away from heavier movies and every description I read of this one made me think it would definitely be on the heavy end of things. And it was. It was also well worth watching and I will, at some point, have to get the book(s) and read them. It’s also a great example for when I encounter people who stubbornly insist that animation is, by default, for children. Yes, they are still out there.

Much like there are people who insist that animation is for kids, there are people who refuse to recognize the graphic novel as a potentially deep medium. I find it hard to wrap my own head around at times, considering that memoir like Maus has been around since at least the 1980s and fiction like Sandman has been around since at least the early 1990s. And even before then, the medium was hardly brand spanking new. Perhaps it comes from people who still see anything in the format as a “comic book” and I don’t want to get all pretentious here, but that’s why I use the term “graphic novel” for some things. Even just the “comic” part of “comic book” implies humor, even if people don’t think that through every time they hear it. So this isn’t a comic book movie. It’s an animated movie using the same artwork as the graphics in the graphic novel. And while it has its comedic moments, it isn’t really comical.

I haven’t really done any research into this movie beyond the basics, but I did see some mentions of it being somewhat controversial in terms of how it portrays the country of Iran and its history and culture. The thing is, this is a memoir. It is the story of a personal and familial experience. Not being a part of the culture she’s writing and speaking about, I can’t really make any judgement on that. But I will take it as a given that what she’s presenting is authentic for her. And so long as she’s not fabricating events entirely, that’s really all that matters to me.

Marjane Satrapi grew up in Iran during a time of revolution and war and changing regimes with changing ideals and rules. The movie follows her through her young childhood and into her teenage years and then out of Iran and into Switzerland where she went to University, then back to Iran to see her family before deciding to leave for good. There’s narration over the entire movie, from Marjane’s point of view, looking back on her own actions and opinions. Marjane’s family is portrayed as involved in the revolution from the outset. Relatives end up in jail or worse. Marjane herself seems to shift loyalties based on what she hears and from whom, changing her mind as she learns and grows. I think this is really a key point for memoir – an unflinching look at one’s own past.

It’s a brutal story, with friends and relatives hurt, people confused and upset. Marjane visits her uncle, Anoosh, in prison just before he’s executed. Relatives of her friends report being tortured while imprisoned. Marjane herself rebels against the restrictions the government places on the people, listening to bootleg heavy metal cassettes and speaking out against what seem to her to be ridiculous rules about what women can and can’t wear and can and can’t do. And eventually she leaves for Europe, where things seem better but where she is ashamed to be Iranian and denies it when she meets new people. Some of her friends romanticize her background, seeing her as something of a poster child for revolution, but others see her as being from a backwards society. And this is key for me when trying to understand this movie. Marjane doesn’t hate Iran or being Iranian. She doesn’t hate the culture she was raised in. But the movie makes it very clear that she doesn’t equate what she grew up in with what she left. That isn’t a criticism of the culture. That’s a criticism of the government.

I can’t make any claims to expertise in drawing style or artistic technique, but I do think that the art of this movie, both in the style of the original illustrations from the graphic novels and the animation, is excellent. It’s deceptively simple, what with the vast majority of it being black and white with little to no shading or color, but there’s a lot of detail and care put into the visuals. It suits the story and I’m incredibly glad that it was made animated instead of live action. The only way I think this movie could have worked with live action would have been if it had gone a very Sin City type of direction, with the live action mimicking the artistic style. But even that wouldn’t have done the story the sort of justice it deserves. There’s a reason why Satrapi used the format and medium she used for the original story and to take it too far from that would have turned it into something entirely other.

Despite how good this is, I know I won’t be putting this back in unless I’m showing it to someone else who hasn’t seen it yet. It’s not a casual movie and it’s not one I could pause on while flipping channels. But it is an excellent movie and a fascinating story. I’m glad I’ve seen it once, even if I never see it again.

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

Movie 576 – Caprica

Caprica – September 27th, 2011

Back when the reboot of Battlestar Galactica started showing on what was still Sci Fi at the time, Andy and I watched it every week through the first three seasons. We stopped midway through season four. Andy kept up with it longer than I did and I still regret getting my mother hooked on it because she’s not the sort of person who can just walk away from a show, even when it’s clearly going downhill. So by the time Caprica started airing we just couldn’t handle starting to watch it. Why bother when we’d been so badly burned by BSG? We never tuned in and I only got bits and pieces of the show’s particulars from friends who were valiantly trying to stick with the franchise. Nothing ever really convinced me it was worth getting sucked into.

Because here’s the thing: I loved the first two seasons of BSG. I loved them passionately. And I knew that if the beginning of the new show was done half as well as the beginning of BSG, I would be suckered right in. The whole conceit of it is to show how everything began, introducing the key figures in the history of Cylon development and telling the story of how the Cylons came to be and where it all went wrong. And I love prequels! I love seeing the background to a story. Where it started, what happened, all the bits and pieces that resulted in a story that came much later. BSG itself was full of such a huge amount of background and history and up until late in the show’s run it was superbly written. So, toss me some backstory and write it to the same standard? Yep. Sold.

Except I don’t know. This is the pilot for the series and it has some good material in it, but I don’t know that it really left enough room to head towards BSG itself. Without going into specific spoilers for the end of BSG, the whole concept of the development of the Cylons being a big breakthrough in human technology is kind of off for me, knowing what I know. And having seen Battlestar Galactica: Razor, which has some flashbacks to the first Cylon war, I know even more of what’s in store than just the regular series showed. What, precisely, is going to be revealed here that we don’t already know? What I loved about the earlier seasons of BSG was that it was a show that messed with its audience. By the end of the miniseries that started it, there was a huge reveal about a major character and it totally changed things. And the show kept doing that. The big dramatic moment in this? Was when the Cylon body wakes up. But I was expecting it. I wasn’t at all shocked by it. And that made me doubt that there were any real surprises in store for me.

All that being said, I did enjoy this. It’s not bad by any means. I do like backstory, after all, and seeing the development of the Cylon as a military project, the shared online worlds developed in secret, the tensions between the colonies, the religious issues, those are all interesting. And at least in the special we watched, there’s nothing really there that spoils anything later in BSG, which I’m sure was difficult. Instead there’s a distinct focus on the roots of what divided the Cylons from the humans in the first place. And at least as far as this first installment is concerned, it appears that a hefty dose of social injustice as viewed by a religions zealot is the key.

Anyone who’s watched a significant amount of the BSG series (and why would you be watching this if you hadn’t watched any of the other or if you weren’t planning on it?) knows that the human colonists are polytheistic, believing in their own interpretations of what we identify as the ancient Greek pantheon. The Cylons, on the other hand, are monotheistic, believing in a single omniscient and omnipotent god. Caprica provides background on that, revealing that there’s a growing underground movement amongst the youth and young adults on the planet of Caprica and likely other planets, rejecting the pantheon of their parents and peers and embracing a single god and more rigid definition of right and wrong. Our main character, Zoe, is a convert. She’s also a computer genius and has managed to create a self-aware copy of herself in a virtual world created by her father. So when her father discovers the copy after Zoe is killed in a terrorist attack he attempts to resurrect her, downloading the copy into a Cylon body that he’s been working on for the government. It does not go as planned.

What complicates things even more, beyond the religious and moral issues, is that Zoe’s father has befriended another man whose daughter was killed in the attack: Joseph Adama. Joseph agrees to let Zoe’s father try to use Zoe’s code to create a copy of his own daughter. Unfortunately, the copy created is self-aware enough to seem real, but also to realize that she’s not really alive. She doesn’t have the knowledge of how she was created because she’s not the one who did it. When she realizes she can’t feel her heart beating well, it isn’t a good outcome by any means.

Add into all of that some political wrangling and mob influence on the government and corporations struggling for contracts and the like and you’ve got the start for a series. Which is, after all, what this is. It’s fairly obvious that this wasn’t meant to be watched on its own. It ends with a “shocking” reveal that’s clearly meant to herald in the major storyline for the series. It opens up possibilities with the prejudices between the colonies, sets up rebellious youth out of control and introduces a host of characters. The trouble is that it really is supposed to lead into the series. So as a stand alone piece it doesn’t quite work for me. I would hope that in future episodes Adama becomes a little more sympathetic, seeing as he is the father of a major sympathetic character in BSG. I would hope that more is done with the virtual world, since that would help explain some of the things that happen in BSG. I would hope that the show was able to weave together all of the threads it introduced here, but I’ve been burned by BSG already and I’m not intrigued enough by this intro to make Caprica worth the risk of another burn.

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

Movie 529 – Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone

Neon Genesis Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone – August 11th, 2011

Honestly? I’m not even sure how to start to review this. Mostly because it’s a re-do of a series that I would never have attempted to sum up in a short space. But also because I feel like there’s no possible way I have anything new to say about this. The series this is based on has been around for a while and it’s rather famous for its bizarre ending and heavily allegorical plot. What could I possibly say that hasn’t been said a million times before by hundreds and thousands of anime fans? Nothing, that’s what.

It just feels silly, trying to recap the plot here, but then that is something I do have to say about this. It’s been a very long time since I last watched the Evangelion series but while watching it I remember feeling like there were always things I was missing. Meaning I should have gotten but which turned out not to be revealed until much later on. At first it’s basically a monster of the week sort of deal, and only later do we find out that there’s a hell of a lot more going on. In this movie remake the same events take place, but with more of the overall plot incorporated into them. Or at least that’s what I’m assuming. Like I said, it’s been quite some time.

I first watched the Evangelion series when I was in college. I’m fairly sure it was during my sophomore year, because I can remember the apartment Andy was living in at the time and the way it was set up. We grabbed the episodes two at a time from the video store we were working at and watched them every night for a while. It’s not one of those series that went on and on forever, but it’s not a concise miniseries either. To be honest, it’s very much like The Prisoner to me: Full of lots of allusions and messages and purpose, then ending in a blaze of what the ever loving fuck. And I don’t dislike what-the-ever-loving-fuck endings, but the series seemed to have spend so much time on the build-up that it just felt odd. I can’t speak to how this movie series will play out, but at least the beginning feels a bit more cohesive.

As in the series, our hero here is young Shinji, who’s been away at school for a while and is pretty convinced his father doesn’t care about him in the least. He’s wrong, but not in a comforting sort of way, because his father does care but as far as this portion of the plot is concerned he only cares that Shinji has the ability to pilot a giant mech called an Eva. And the Evas are needed in order to defeat a series of giant attacking monsters called Angels. So Shinji’s father cares that Shinji is now useful, but other than that he’s pretty distant. Which leads to the immense amount of whining Shinji does throughout the story. Shinji is famous for his whining. And you know, if the fate of the world wasn’t at stake, I’d be a lot more forgiving of his daddy issues. His daddy is a remote jackass and at least in the series it becomes clear he’s also pretty creepy. So I’d totally let Shinji’s whining go, but it’s so ever-present that it feels egregious, and this is not something that this movie fixes. Even knowing that a lot of what Shinji is whining about is perfectly valid, I still rolled my eyes.

So Shinji shows up in Tokyo and is immediately told that he’s not there for a loving reunion with his father but is needed to pilot a giant mech he’s never seen or heard of before and oh yes, he needs to do that right now because an Angel is approaching the city. The only other Eva and pilot in the area are disabled due to an accident and so it’s up to him. Is it any wonder that he has trouble piloting the damn thing? The Angel kicks his ass, at which point his mech goes berserk and freaks out, giving us a clue that maybe the Evas aren’t really just big suits of armor. There are other clues by the end. It’s made clear that there’s a much deeper game going on, with something imprisoned deep down under the city, even below the fortified underground space where the city exists when it’s all been retracted during an attack. It’s clear that Things Have Happened and will continue to happen. And it’s clear that there’s a lot that isn’t clear.

Really, I’m not sure what else to say here. I’m watching this movie somewhat tainted with a years-back experience watching the series it’s based on. Of course that’s bound to color how I see the movie itself and I freely admit that I am a biased viewer. I know a lot of what isn’t revealed in this movie, so perhaps my knowledge of what’s to come is affecting how I see what was revealed. I know the natures of some of the characters a little better. I know the ending, such as it was when I watched it way back when. Ultimately, I came out of this movie having enjoyed it, and it was certainly nice to see a good quality version with what were likely updated effects. But I also came out of it wanting to rewatch the series to check myself and my perceptions of it. I don’t know how someone with no prior knowledge of the story and universe would react to it. Perhaps it would be an easier sell than the series. Or perhaps it’s just as incomprehensible, just in slightly different ways, and if you’re going to enjoy it you’ll enjoy it either way and likewise if you’re not going to enjoy it. I wish I could review it better, but like I said, I’m sure other people have already done so.

August 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 173 – Solaris (2002)

Solaris (2002)

Coming out of this movie I find I feel a little disjointed. There’s a whole lot I want to say but I’m not sure how precisely to say it. This is most definitely a science fiction film, and one with a fairly high concept. But it’s also low on frills. It doesn’t need a lot of special effects and fanciness. That’s not the point at all. It’s an introspective science fiction movie. It’s a science fiction movie that wants you to think. And I am thinking. Just not terribly coherently. Because there’s just so much to think about.

We’re made aware right away that we’re in the future, but it’s not a Jetsons sort of future. It’s just enough removed from the present that we can accept that there’s a space station orbiting a mysterious planet called Solaris, and that something very wrong is happening on the station. Something no one can figure out and the inhabitants aren’t talking about. One of the inhabitants, a scientist named Gibarian, has sent a message back to Earth requesting that his friend, psychologist Chris Kelvin, come to help. And so Chris does. And he discovers just what’s going on up there, though it’s nothing that can be easily explained. I was strongly reminded of the Star Trek TNG episode Where No One Has Gone Before. I know it underwent massive rewrites after Diane Duane and Michael Reeves submitted their script, but I can’t help but wonder if either of them were influenced by Stansilaw Lem. I might have to find the Star Trek novel of Duane’s that the episode was based on.

Anyhow, I don’t really see how I can continue with writing a meaningful review without explaining what’s happening. It’s spoilery, I know, but so much of the purpose and intent and meaning in the movie is wrapped up in the specifics. So if you don’t want to go on reading because you plan on watching this and want to find out for yourself what’s going on, that’s cool. I understand. But now I’m going to pontificate. Though I do promise that there is a little bit near the end that I won’t go ruining.

So, Chris goes to Solaris Base and it’s a mess. There are two scientists left, his friend Gibarian having committed suicide before Chris’s arrival. There’s Snow, a young man who seems to have answers and yet not at the same time. And there’s Gordon, a woman who’s locked herself in her room and won’t let anyone in. This is because of the visitors. They appear in the night, pulling their forms from the thoughts of the person they appear to. They are people we want to see. Even if those people are long gone. They’re not human. They have a strange partial recollection of their source persona, but ultimately they are alien. Because their source is the planet itself. Something about it is able to create these visitors from the minds of the humans orbiting around it. And the crew have all slowly gone mad.

Chris gets a visitor fairly quickly. She is his wife, Rheya. And he panics. Because seeing your dead wife show up in your bedroom on a space station she had no way of getting to would be a little shocking, you know? And he sends her away. And she appears again. The trouble is she is his version of Rheya. She remembers the things he remembers, sees herself doing the things Rheya did, but from his point of view, which doesn’t understand her motivations originally. And so she doesn’t understand. She’s working without all the pertinent information. She blames him, later, for misremembering her. For remembering her in a way that makes her actions make no sense to her, and so driving her mad. It’s a terrible thing, to realize that the person you love knew you so poorly. Things spiral out of control from there, but not just because Rheya and Chris have problems.

There’s also Gordon. She’s utterly paranoid about these visitors. We never get to see hers, but she clearly doesn’t want whoever it was coming back. Maybe because she loved that person and refuses to accept a facsimile. Maybe because she realized her memories were flawed. Or that the flaws were hers. It’s unclear. Whatever the reason, she warns Chris not to get emotionally involved. She’s willing and eager to kill the visitors. But given the utterly alien nature of what’s going on, her reaction is understandable. One can see it as the oddly narrow end of a wedge that widens out to include the fear of all differences. If one can postulate a potential risk, one can excuse fear. She flat out admits she’s threatened by the inhumanity of whatever these visitors are, and she wants humanity to win. She’s clearly seeing it as a combat situation. But then, in the world of the movie, there is a real risk. Gibarian committed suicide when faced with his own visitor, a version of his young son (who’s still running around the station). One of the others “disappeared” according to Snow. Either the visitors themselves or humanity’s reactions to them make interacting with them dangerous. It’s a difficult thing for me to balance. I’m not sure the movie intends me to try.

So with Chris and Rheya both so broken – Chris because he seems to still blame himself for the original’s death and Rheya because she knows that and can’t help but see herself as a warped version of the original – but loving each other anyhow, we also have to deal with Gordon. And Snow, but he sort of stays out of things for the most part, until the end. He’s interesting, and his character has interesting implications, but I don’t think the movie gave me enough to really work with. It would all be hypothetical.

I found the love story aspect of the movie to be unsettling and a little creepy. Perhaps that was intentional. I’m not sure. It’s about a man who’s in love with his memories of his dead wife. They make Rheya like the library books Jennifer takes out in Pleasantville, complete only to a point. So the love story is a painful one, because I honestly don’t think Solaris could give Chris the real Rheya back. It can only give him what he already has, just in tangible form. What I found far more interesting is the very nature of that love story. I find it interesting not because it’s a love story, but because it’s built on the issue of something utterly unlike ourselves communicating with us in a way we can’t really comprehend.

Chris’s midnight talk with a version of Gibarian of unknown origin gives me what I’m looking for here. I know Stanislaw Lem saw this movie as focusing overmuch on the human aspect, when it was the impossibility of communication between alien and human that drove the novel. But I think one can get out of it what one wants. While the human aspect is very important to the movie, knowing what’s going on I find I focused on the pseudo-Gibarian’s line about Solaris not needing a reason for doing what it’s doing. That right there is the alien. That the motivations aren’t motivations humans can fathom because they aren’t human. Ultimately, Chris decides to take what he can because the alternative is worse, whereas for Gordon the opposite is true. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Is there a right and wrong there? And what about Snow? And Gibarian’s son, who stuck around even after Gibarian’s death? Those are things I think the movie wants you to think about. Not necessarily about true love and whatnot, but about the nature of choice and communication and memory.

I’m not going to say this movie was entirely successful. It builds a good eerie mood, with a lot of silence and stillness and emptiness. It sets up the situation well, building the world just enough to get us to the station to see what’s going on. It’s a small cast, and the focus is nice and tight. But ultimately I think it’s a movie unsure of which way to go. The love story attempts to truly be a love story. I think it’s the very ending that broke the movie for me. It tries to wrap it all up neatly, when in my mind there is nothing neat about it all. There shouldn’t be. The movie invites you to think. The ending tells you to stop.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment