15 October, 2008

Eastern Promises, Speed Racer, and Captain Herlock

Brief reviews of three films I read lately.

  • Eastern Promises: A pregnant young woman, bleeding badly, arrives at a hospital in London. She doesn't survive the operation, but her baby does. Obliged by British Law to try to find the baby's nearest family, the surgeon finds a journal among the woman's possessions, written in Russian. What she reads brings her into contact with members of the Russian criminal organization Вори в законе, "Thieves in Law".

    A while back, I watched two of the nominees for Best Film from last year: There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men. I don't really understand why they were so well-received, inasmuch as they seemed rather pointless and dispiritingly amoral.

    Eastern Promises received many of the same rave reviews as those two films, and from many of the same people, so I prepared myself for another disappointment. If it hadn't featured Viggo Mortensen, whose performance in The Lord of the Rings I enjoyed, I might not have watched it.

    To my delight, this film was fantastic! Sure, the Russians are (mostly) bad guys, and I've written that this irritates me in American film. But not all of them are, and some of the "bad guys" turn out to be sympathetic, exhibiting a strong sense of morality. Before attempting to murder someone, one criminal with whom the viewer has grown intimately familiar weeps bitterly at the immorality of the order he has been given. He remains a pathetic character, but it's touching nevertheless.

    The acting was superb. The representation of Russian criminal gangs appears to be highly accurate, and I have a good metric. At one point, a member of the Russian mob was told that he would be promoted, receiving a "star" tattoo. My wife, sitting next to me, murmured that in the real organization of Thieves in Law several bosses would meet to interview the man and make sure he qualified for the star. The very next scene depicted the meeting. My poor wife was embarassed; "I shouldn't know these things," she said, "but they show it in Russian TV dramas all the time." For my part, I was impressed. My wife becomes more interesting the longer I know her, and I mean that as a compliment!

    If the world were just, Eastern Promises would win lots and lots of Oscars. There was some graphic copulation and a lot of even more graphic violence, and it was all more graphic than necessary. But wow! what a good film.
  • Speed Racer: I rented this for my son, but I think I enjoyed it more than anyone else. The film exhibited zero pretensions whatsoever, and captured the spirit of 60s and 70s Anime very well: the same lame group of characters; the same "mystery character" who may or may not be the star's long-lost relative; the same purely evil, greedy bad guys; and ooooooooh the colors! My son complained about too much CGI, but it was absolutely gorgeous even if you don't ask for my opinion. A couple of plot twists make it even more fun.
  • Captain Herlock and the Endless Voyage: A bunch of Japanese animators get together and ask themselves, "How can we exploit the market potential of the legendary 70s anime character Captain Herlock, while adapting the story to fit current fashions in Anime? I know: let's use zombies!!!"

    As if zombies weren't bad enough, they wrote so little plot into any of the episodes I watched that most of the animation consists of the characters posing. I mean "posing" in the most negative sense possible, similar to the slur "you poser!" And Herlock is the worst poser of all: taking himself far too seriously, and looking down his nose at whoever happens to be in front of him. (I don't remember his being so tall in the past.)

    Aside from the zombies, the story reminds me a lot of the TV series Firefly, only without the intelligence, the energy, or the point. It's a long way down from My Youth in Arcadia.

1 comment:

Clemens said...

Jack, I felt the same way about my wife the day she unexpectedly said while we were in a book store looking at a book about Che Guevera "Che was the filthiest man I'd ever seen!"