Monday, June 26, 2006

Movie Mon. - Who'd Have Thought That Subtitles Would Be My Favorite Part of a Movie?

Not much in the way of introductory thoughts this time around; let's just dive right in.

Syriana: Political thriller about a CIA agent (George Clooney), an energy consultant (Matt Damon), a corporate lawyer (Jeffrey Wright), an idealistic Arab prince (Alexander Siddig), and a disillusioned Pakistani man (Mazhar Munir) who are all caught up in the machinations and dealings surrounding the merger of two major oil companies. This is not one of those movies you can only give half you focus to; it takes 30 minutes for the film to set up the basic plot threads, and from then on it's just a matter of sitting back and trying to track how each of them will intersect all of the others. While I enjoyed the film, it's not one I'd ever want to see again. Although Clooney did a good job, I don't think he really deserved the Oscar for this one; thinking it was one of those pity Oscars they sometimes award when an actor gets screwed over elsewhere.

Minotaur: Low budget reimagining of the story of Theseus and the minotaur, with the minotaur being designed as a giant mutant bull rather than the traditional half-bull/half-man of myth. A couple of interesting moments here and there, with lots of scenery chewing by horror veteran Tony Todd, but not really much here to recommend.

The Hills Have Eyes: Remake of the Wes Craven classic about a vacationing family being picked off by a group of psychotic hill folk, with the added twist this time of the killers being not inbred, but mutated by atomic testing. Fairly well done film, with a likable enough cast of victims, led by the nigh-unto-unrecognizable Aaron Stanford (a.k.a. Pyro in the X-men films). Think most horror fans will enjoy it.

Night Watch: Russian horror/fantasy film about an ancient war between the two factions of supernatural beings known as "The Others" and a prophecy about the coming of a powerful new Other who will tip the balance between the two sides. The first of a proposed trilogy, this movie broke all box-office records in Russia when it came out. I really enjoyed this one, but I do have some conflicting emotions on the version I saw. On the one hand, I know that it's different from the original version shown in Russia, with some scenes trimmed, others added in, and others rearranged; how much of this was done under the control of the original director, and how much was just the studio, I don't know, which is bothersome. On the other hand, one of my favorite features of the film was something that (as far as I've been able to discover) was not included in the original film: animated subtitles. What does that mean? Well, in other words, the subtitles don't just pop up on the screen as plain text; instead, they often reflect what's happening on screen: when a vampire enthralls a young boy, her mental commands appear in a wavering red, initially formed from drops of blood; when the protagonist is screaming for a dark Other to stop her witchcraft, his screams appear in caps, carpeting the screen; at times, the subtitles shift and move around the background as the character walk across screen. It's amazing how much they enhanced the film; even if you're one of those Philistines who listens to dubs instead of the original audio track, do yourself a favor and watch the Russian version of the film.

Glory Road: True story of the first NCAA basketball team to start an all-black starting line-up in the national championships. I'm not exactly a big fan of the inspirational sports movie as a general rule, but I enjoyed the heck out of this one. I think one of the things I liked about it was that while the race card was a factor when dealing with the outside world, it wasn't the driving force of the team dynamic; yes, it reared its head a few times, but not in an overly preachy sort of way. Plus, knowing that it's based on real events helps keep the game outcomes from feeling contrived. Add on strong performances from all involved, and you have a sports movie I can actually feel good about recommending to one and all.