Friday, June 3, 2011

Quick Film Reviews #3

Grave of the Fireflies
I spent the first half hour or so of this Studio Ghibli film right on the brink of crying, but I think that may have been more me than the film. The film's about a boy and his baby sister's during the final stages of World War 2 in Japan, amidst firebombing and rationing. I'm going to give away a bit of the plot, but I don't think it's too serious. Ultimately the film was nice enough, but didn't do all that much for me. I also can't shake the interpretation that for all the niceness of trying to find their own way, and not leave her alone, the main character basically kills his sister. It's no Panda Go Panda.

Chungking Express
Chungking Express is not quite the same meticulous, precision crafted film you might know Wong Kar Wei for, but it has the same laden, dreamy style and love of telling stories. The cinematography might not be as sumptuous, but it is still carefully composed and laden with colour. The film has some odd features as well. In particular, it presents two stories, one of which is significantly shorter. The transition between the two takes a little getting used to before you realise they do have entirely different characters. One feature I particularly liked was that the main characters give some narration, thoughts and wisdom, but I never felt these were meant to be taken too seriously. Especially when these pieces of philosophy are issued after eating several dozen tins of pineapple chunks. Stylistically the film's a wonderful evocation of a 24-hour, neon-tinted, multi-lingual city, a setting that fits the its celebration of throwaway chances and romantic possibilities.

Probably Terry Gilliam's masterpiece, Brazil always gets compared to 1984, and I'm not going to break the habit. In fact, Brazil is a more plausible vision of the future. Instead of a faceless, ruthlessly efficient system, Brazil's totalitarianism is a somewhat careless bureaucracy. Its staff are not faceless automatons but real people, who might be nice or nasty, but who are bound by their roles and the rules that go with them. You won't get shot for challenging the system, you'll just get bounced around between agencies filling in forms until you lose the will. Ultimately I suppose it is about how people fight and escape from this system with imagination and fantasy. (Although what it does share with 1984 is the use of a woman as a liberating fantasy.) Along with that you have all the visual imagination and wit you'd expect from a Terry Gilliam film, from the architecture that brings to mind early sci-fi, futurism (and its associate fascism), to the immensely long peaks on the engineers' caps. Plus it features Michael Palin as a chummy torturer and Robert de Niro as a renegade heating engineer, who zip-lines out of every scene.

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