December 25, 2009

First Squad: The Moment of Truth (Fāsuto sukuwaddo) (2009)

It's amazing to me that the whole soviet imagery wasn't exploited by anime sooner. The socialist realist aesthetic and the bright red propaganda posters that the USSR is known for, coupled with their uniformed "pioneers" reminiscent of the favourite school uniform motif so common in anime, make for great anime visuals. The plot is some standard anime fare, complete with undead medieval knights, machine-gun wielding young communists and samurai-sword wielding schoolgirl. From my understanding this was supposed to be a series, but for now only the OAV is out. The anime sequences are separated by live-action faux-cumentary talking heads (with titles such as 'Historian' or 'War veteran' for authenticity) although I also saw a shortened, live-action-less version in which the talking heads aren't there, which makes for a more compact, distraction-less experience, depending on which version you see. Overall great Studio 4°C animation with great Russian voice acting. I'd like for this to become a series, as the OAV felt short and I think there is so much more they could do with this than the OAV format allows.

Avatar (2009)

I'm not about to criticize a film that has Duke Nukem in an exoskeleton in a knife fight with a 12 foot blue alien, that by itself makes it worthwhile. That it's in 3D and that the plot didn't completely suck was just icing on the cake. It must say something about the time we live in, when anti-imperialist/anti-colonialist/treehugger propaganda needs to be wrapped in a whole lot of CG videogame shell for us to give a shit anymore, but alas, I don't think I would have had it any other way. Thankfully the 3D isn't too distracting, although the art direction did make it seem like I was at a blacklit glow-in-the-dark rave most of the time. Blue alien sex and the hair-bird-rape did have its merits, and weaver was as charming as ever. Plot was basically Pocahontas on steroids, and the themes were blatantly borrowing from colonialism (civilizing the natives) to 9/11 (that falling, burning tree looked an awful lot like the twin towers) to environmental issues (saving the forest, which on Pandora seems to still be green, despite everything else being neon glow). I can't hate this movie, and despite identifying with most of its political message, I can't help but notice it and wonder if that's what's really needed for us to enjoy mindless entertainment these days. Maybe it satisfies some guilt by having a 'message' that makes it O.K. for us to enjoy some pretty pictures. Again, Cameron's fingerprints are all over this one, from the dual rotor helicopters from Terminator 2, to the exoskeleton suit from Aliens, but more importantly, in his ability to take a very male-oriented subject and inject it with themes that can appeal to both genders. Overall very enjoyable, especially on the visual side, but ultimately more dependent on form and technology than on plot and meaning. Like I said, I can't really judge this alongside everything else for it is something unique among everything that's out these days.

The Road (2009)

A hobo dad and his son prance around dodging cannibals in post apocalyptic america. They meet blind hobo Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore from Apocalypse now and give him some fruit but he vomits it out. Hobo dad gets sick and dies and son gets adopted by the guy from Memento with bad teeth and his wife, kids and dog. Overall great feelgood Christmas movie, especially with all that ash that makes everything look like snow. Burned landscapes are great to look at and the ambiance and the "message" and the "answer" (about humanity, our own destruction and what happens to human feces when you disembowel someone) are all things that make this one a definite maybe.

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden) (2009)

The second installment in the Millennium trilogy enjoys the same benefits and handicaps as the first part. The plot again seems rushed, but the performances are solid and cinematography on par. The second novel introduced significantly more central characters than the first one, so it would have been understandably difficult to stuff them all into one film, but I think in the end it managed to be on target and focus on the major ones that are essential to the plot. Of course, not nearly enough character development as in the book, but that was to be expected. Overall, great sequel to an already great adaptation of the first part.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

It's amazing to me that Cage is still allowed making movies, but alas, if anyone can find that diamond in the rough that used to be Cage, it must be Herzog. Hypnotic and dream-like, this should really not be taken as another standard police flick (in which case it would fail miserably) but rather as a hallucinatory journey down one man's painful way of life, his phantasmagoric redemption from thereof and his (and our) eventual realization that some things will never change because we never really wanted them to. Overall great, in a way only Herzog can pull off.