Friday, January 04, 2008

Filmtastic Friday - "Guilty Knowledge?"

The Kingdom: Entertaining thriller about a group of FBI agents who travel to the Middle East to investigate the terrorist bombing that claimed one of their own. Now, from what I remember of the trailers, they focused on the fact that one of the team members gets kidnapped and has to be rescued, making it look like that was the focus of the film; instead, the film is much more of a procedural, with the FBI team doing their investigative work while having to work around the red tape created by the local officials who don't want to admit that they need help from the Americans, with the kidnapping and rescue attempt occupying only the final act of the film which is pretty much a non-stop action sequence. Interesting characters, amusing dialog, and likable actors all added up to this being an enjoyable film. I especially liked Jason Bateman's turn as the smart-mouthed agent who puts up one heck of a fight when he's captured.

The animated tale of a talented rat whose unusually developed senses make him eschew the garbage consumed by the rest of his kind and pursue a world of culinary delights, forming an unlikely alliance with a garbage boy at a Parisian restaurant. I must admit, the trailers for this one never really appealed to me, and the only things that me me even remotely interested were the massive amount of rave reviews it received and the fact that it was created by Brad Bird, the creative genius behind The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, two of the best animated films of the last 10 years. Sure enough, my faith in Bird was upheld, as Ratatouille turned out to be a clever and amusing film which far exceeded the low expectations generated by the trailers.

Hannibal Rising:
Prequel to Silence of the Lambs/Red Dragon/Hannibal which details how young Hannibal Lecter first gained a taste for murder and human flesh. Like so many popular fictional villains, the character of Hannibal has transformed from an intriguing foil for the story's protagonist into a full-fledged anti-hero, and it is that view which holds sway here, presenting a sympathetic origin to try to explain the horrors Hannibal would later commit. As a revenge tale, the film works fairly well, and the relationship between Hannibal and his aunt gave the film much more emotional resonance than I would have suspected; as a satisfying examination of the intriguing and complex character which made Silence of the Lambs such a brilliant film, however, not so much. Trying to use the samurai armor to act as a foreshadowing of the infamous muzzle mask of Lambs was laughable at best and the whole "Do you have any guilty knowledge?" exchange still strikes me as some of the most clunkily constructed pieces of dialog ever to be shoehorned into every single trailer for a film; sadly, it did not seem any less clunky in the film. Still, not a bad film, per se, just not a great one either.

Balls of Fury:
Goofy comedy whose "Enter the Dragon"-esque plot finds a former ping pong champion recruited by the FBI to help infiltrate a massive ping pong tournament hosted by an international crime lord (Christopher Walken). Often predictable, this is one of those "it had its moments" films; if you're looking for silly, escapist comedy, you could do far worse. Walken is a gas, as usual, and relative newcomer and Tony Award winning actor Dan Fogler does a capable job in the lead.

Indie film set in Dublin about an Irish busker (played by The Frames frontman Glen Hansard)

whose encounter with a Czech girl (established musician but first-time actress Markéta Irglová) leads to musical collaboration

and possible romance. This was one of those movies that got in my queue because it made almost every critic's list of "best films of the year" and, after watching it, I understand why -- loved this movie. I'm generally a big fan of the intricate and complex in filmmaking, but I have to admit, I found the simplicity and directness of Once's plot to be a large part of its charm. Not that the film is simplistic, mind you; the characters are fully fleshed and while nominally a romance, the plot avoids many of the usual cliches. The movie is also nominally a musical, but in the same way that, say, This is Spinal Tap or That Thing You Do or even Cabaret are musicals; the characters are musicians, and their songs are not random outbursts of song with full orchestration swelling in the background -- instead, like in the above clips, the songs are performed by the characters in realistic settings and realistic situations.

The music is a huge factor in my love of the film, which is why I've included so many clips in my review; this soundtrack has moved to the top of my "must buy" list. Hansard and Irglová wrote and performed all of their characters' music themselves, Hansard taking some of his pre-existing songs from The Frames and both of them writing a few new tunes as well. Loved the music, loved the characters, loved the film's intimate feel, loved the humor. Might not be an inimitably quotable film, or be dripping with witticisms, or boiling over with action, but I was entranced through the whole thing.