07 February, 2007

Quick 'n Dirty Movie Reviews

More dirty than quick, I'm afraid. My health has been poor lately, so I'm going to take out my frustrations on some DVDs we've watched, rather than on my students:

The Devil Wears Prada: An attractive, ordinary colleg grad goes to work at the world's premiere fashion mag. She is quickly corrupted by the world of, well, fashion. She loses her values, her direction, and her relationships, even sleeping in Paris with a Botoxed Beelzebub who hooked her up with a manuscript of the forthcoming Harry Potter book. Our heroine is not entirely un-virtuous, however, as she returns to the righteous path, regaining everything she lost, and obtains one heck of a job recommendation from Satan herself, the editor-in-chief of said fashion mag. Drawbacks: (1) "Ordinary" girl and "ordinary" friends are artistes, journalistes, and chefs at restaurants whose names include the word "chez". Don't look for anyone who actually is ordinary. (2) The pat ending is a little too pat. Also, did the heroine give up all those oh-my-god-so-glamorous clothes and return to frumpville, or not? I wasn't clear on that. (3) Meryl Streep uses fewer lines to make "Satan" more likeable than any other character. No one else in the film is even in her league. Bonuses (maybe): I plan to watch some films starring Meryl Streep.

The Illusionist: Clever, deceptive magician uses his wits not only to foil the plans of the progressive, enlightened, and intelligent, albeit alcoholic, Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to usurp his father's throne, but to seize his girl as well, revenging himself thereby on a hyper-class-conscious society that tore them apart in their youth, until he could learn enough magic tricks to outwit the common folk and spirit (pun intended) noble chick off to a rural hideaway. Bonus: Paul Giamatti, until the last five minutes of the film. Drawbacks: (1) Pretty much everything in the last five minutes of the film. It's bad enough to be told that everything you saw was an illusion, thereby shattering the possibility of real magic; it's even worse to be convinced of it without having the opportunity to learn how the illusions worked. (2) The Crown Prince is clearly intelligent, and often referred to as enlightened, progressive, and desiring the best for his nation. Yet he is the bad guy, for no better reason than that he stands in the hero's path of reunion with his childhood love, whereas everyone else—one of the sorriest lots of selfish people acting in their own interests that I recall in film—are somehow heroes. I must have read too much into the Crown Prince's appearance of disinterest. (3) Watching the lead actress assert with a straight face in the bonus features that this is a very romantic film.

Masterpiece Theatre presents Jane Eyre: Yet another Victorian-age (?) female author fantasizes about tall, rugged, silent, dark-haired English noblemen with dark pasts. At least in this story he doesn't come striding across the fields in the light of dawn in his bedrobe and in the flush of emotional self-realization to cry out to Keira Knightley how he loves her. Bonus: Once I got past the "yet-another dark-haired English nobleman" gimmick, this story was much, much better than Pride and Prejudice, or any of those other big-screen productions that were recently fashionable. This story really is romantic. I actually want to watch it again.

Masterpiece Theater presents Sally Lockhart: One of those lesser British literary works. The plot revolves around a mysterious old woman (not Sally Lockhart) who will kill pretty much everyone (including herself) just to get her hands on a beautiful Indian ruby that she thinks rightly belongs to her. It originally belonged to an Indian maharajah (also not Sally Lockhart) who ended up giving it instead to an officer of the British army whose task it was to guard his life, failed to do so, and yet still ended up with the ruby. Nothing is what it seems, including Sally Lockhart. Bonus: No tall, rugged, silent, dark-haired English noblemen striding across the fields in the light of dawn, in their bedrobes, and in the flush of emotional self-realization. Drawback: Wondering whether the story is meant as a biting social commentary on Britain's role in the international opium trade, and fails to make much headway on that theme, or merely a literary predecessor to the Indiana Jones films.

The Pink Panther Strikes Again: Except for the subplot where Chief Inspector Dreyfus threatens to destroy the world with a death ray unless they give him Clouseau, this is a great, funny film. Drawbacks: That's not a subplot; it's the plot. Also, it made me laugh so hard it worsened a nascent cough, which is the origin of my current health problems.

Revenge of the Pink Panther: I vaguely recall that this is a very funny film that takes place partly in China. I've watched it a few times before, but thanks to my cough, I couldn't watch it the one time I actually rented it! Drawback: Thanks to said cough, I didn't get to watch the film. Bonus: My 10 year-old seemed to like it.

Darmok and Jelad: This episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation seemed a lot more intelligent when I watched it with a friend 15+ years ago. Captain Jean-Luc Picard tries to comprehend the seemingly mad rantings of an alien captain who has taken him hostage on a savage planet. These rantings include snippets such as, "Darmok and Jelad at Tinagra. Shaka, when the walls fell. Temba, his hands wide open." etc. Bonuses: (1) Even before you understand him, you suspect that the alien's rantings contain more sense than anything spoken by any Federation officer in any other episode, televised or filmed, through the entire Star Trek franchise. The only human who approaches the sense of this alien is Picard's earth-bound, wine-growing brother, who just so happens to think Picard is an idiot. (2) Picard almost gets killed by some weird electro-magnetic monster. Drawback: The monster kills the alien captain instead, while Picard survives to scream, "No! No! No!" as he materializes in the teleporter. Beam me up, Scotty; there's no intelligent life down here.

Curiously, Eliot at Claw of the Conciliator also reflected on Star Trek: the Next Generation today. I think they did one of those polarity reversals to beam Picard up in this episode, too, but don't take my word for it.


Elliot said...

Was that the alien species that speaks in quotes or tags, much like the Ascians in Wolfe's Book of the New Sun? I've heard some people opine the idea was stolen from there.

Funny reviews, BTW!

jack perry said...

From what I read online about the Ascians in Book of the New Sun, that's not a fair opinion. They don't just speak in quotes or tags; they communicate using myths exclusively. The viewer does learn that "Darmok and Jelad at Tenagra" is about two great hunters that meet on an island in the middle of a vast ocean, together hunt and kill some mythical beast, and then Darmok leaves alone on the ocean. Likewise, "Shaka: when the walls fell" refers to some myth (which I don't recall learning) where the hero (Shaka?) fails to accomplish what he wants. So, whenever they don't manage to communicate their goals, they grumble, "Shaka, when the walls fell." At the end of the episode a new myth is added to the aliens' communication: "Dathan and Picard at (name of the planet)." Dathan:Darmok, Jelad:Picard, Tenagra:planet.

So to me, saying that they stole the idea is like saying that sci-fi writers stole the idea of space travel from Jules Verne.

Clemens said...

Jack -
My wife and I just watched "The Illusionist" and liked it. I read the character of the archduke differently though. Yes he is intelligent, and a dedicated reformer and modernizer. Yet he is also a meglomaniac plotting to take over the throne, and has a reputation of beating and even killing his mistresses. While this latter charge is never really proven in the film, everyone, including the inspector, assume that it is true. Its the main reason the deception can work.

Perhaps that is the final twist of the tale. The archduke may have been a perverted killer, or maybe he was just set up.

jack perry said...

Yet he is also a meglomaniac plotting to take over the throne, and has a reputation of beating and even killing his mistresses.

I didn't overlook the megalomaniacal part, but I did forget about his reputation for beating and even killing his mistresses. I shouldn't have overlooked that. The fact that it comes from the inspector lends it some credence, since the inspector admits to having no jurisdiction on imperial property and can't do anything about such incidents.