Thursday, February 28, 2008

Moving pictures, with occasional music

Arn: The Knight Templar

Arn is an adaptation of Jan Guillou's bestselling trilogy, covering the first book and half of the second, and the most expensive swedish production ever, clocking in at some 210 million swedish crowns. Clearly wanting to be a big historical epic in the vein of Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, it sadly falls short of the mark by a pretty wide marigin.

I haven't read the books, but I suspect the root of the problem is the need to be faithful to the novels. One and a half books is a lot of ground to cover in the space of two hours and twenty minutes, and the inability to cut out stuff and rework it into something more concise leads to a move that feels overlong and rushed at the same time. It's too busy rushing from plot point to plot point without letting the characters breathe in the slightest. Oh, now he's a little kid sent to a cloister, now there's a bunch of political maneouvering, and now he's in (utterly unvconvincing) love, now there's more political maneuvering, oh god more horrible unconvincing love scenes, now he's sent to the middle east to fight in the holy war and whoops the movie's over. In the words of Dr Kermode, it's all just a bunch! of! stuff! happening. In every scene we get images and music that tell us exactly how we're supposed to feel, but the filmmakers haven't got the time to actually make us feel it, nor do the actors' have the ability to pick up the slack.

It's not all bad, mind you. The production design, costumes and cinematograpy are of consistently high quality, there's a pretty neat duel, and I really like the mix of languages. People will start praying in latin, the arabs actually speak arabic and so on. Loads of neat incidental detail like that.

Still, all the production values in the world can't help save the core from being flat and uninvolving. And really, for a movie subtitled "The Knight Templar", we don't get nearly enough knight templaring.


Well, this is certainly the most savage movie to come along in a long while. John Rambo is back, and this time he's racking up a biger body count than ever before. There's a semblance of plot about some do-gooder Christian missionaries that get caught up in Burma's civil war, but really, it's an old-fashioned exploitation movie. It's all just an excuse to deliver gallons of gore and shredded bodies to the audience.

Which is fine, I've nothing against gore and violence. But I wish Stallone would've left the all the mubling about this is how the world works and how we're supposed to howl with glee because a peacenik learns to bash people's skulls in with a stone. It leaves a sour taste.

Of course, a loathsome underlying message didn't stop all those Reaganite eighties action movies from being enteraining, but the carnage is too impersonal. There's some feeble attempts to develop a main antagonist in the shape of a pedophile general, but it carries all the force and conviction of boiled asparagus. In the end, you're left feeling momentarily stunned and slightly soiled by the dour, unrelenting savagery, but that's all.


I'm not a big fan of Disney to put it mildly, but this was simply a delight. It starts off as your typical old-school disney movie, albeit slightly with it's tongue slightly more in cheek than usual. However, soon enough the princess-to-be is thrown down a wishing well by the wicked stepmother, and lands in modern-day new york and we switch from animation to live action. There she's taken pity on by a kind single-parent lawyer who exasperatedly tries to reconcile her fairy-tale mentality with the realities of the world while sparks slowly start flying between them. Meanwhile, her dunder-headed bethrothed barges after her, and Susan Sarandon chews an impressive amount of scenery and looks better while showing more cleavage than any sixty year old woman should legally have a right to.

Well, outside of the hag makeup anyway.

It's funny and knowing about all the Disney tropes and winks at the audience without giving in and turning into a smug full-on post-modern Shrek-alike. It's a pretty impressive tightrope to walk, and a lot of credit for its success belongs to Amy Adams for turning a cartoon character that by all rights should be annoying as hell into someone insanely charming. The end goes perhaps a bit more over the top than it should, but all in all it's quite lovely.

The Jacket

Jack Starks died the first time when he was 27, shot in the head by a little boy during the first gulf war. Afterwards, he has problems forming memories and suffers from hallucinations. One day winter day while hitchhiking he's involved in an incident where a cop gets shot. Unable to remember anything but a little girl and her mother who helped out earlier in the day, the crime gets pinned on him and he's sent to amental hospital. There, he becomes the subject of a sadistic doctor's experimental treatment that consists of being put in the titular jacket and stuffed into a morgue drawer. This takes him several years into the future, where he runs into the girl who've grown up into Keira Knightley and informs him that he's supposed to have died within a couple of days of the first time he got stuffed into the drawer.

Right about there is where you either roll with the movie, or start laughing. The whole time travel business is never justified with the even slightest of hand waving, which is just as well. More troublesome is all the paradoxes and plotholes that are even wider than in most time travel movies. But in the end I quite like it, despite all its problems. It's a moody, atmospheric and oddly uplifting mix of horror, drama and sci-fi, with quite solid acting throughout. You just have to be able to go along with it.

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