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[personal profile] glaurung_quena
Being a potpourri of reviewlets.

1. "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is a perfectly acceptable, fun movie. Nothing special, but a lot better than the previous two installments in the series.

Like the previous two installments, it suffers from the film makers not understanding that you cannot make the Narnia stories into PG-13 action flicks the way you can the Lord of the Rings. Narnia stories are charming fairy tales for children, not adult drama, but the first two movies forgot this (or never knew it) and so they failed to be charming. Which left them both kind of empty and soulless. Since "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" doesn't feature a war, however, it was harder for the producers to ruin it by turning it into a LOTR clone with big CGI battles.

Yes, they took some liberties with the script (combining some of the islands, and inserting a generic coupon-collection fantasy plot, I guess because an exploration based travelogue of wonders is not a sufficient plot motivator these days), but the plot can be safely ignored.

You can ignore the plot... because the reason to see this movie is Simon Pegg's (and the animators') performance as Reepicheep. Pegg perfectly captures the gallant mouse knight, and his performance breathes life and soul into the film. All by himself, Reepicheep takes Dawn Treader out of the "boring same old same old" category and makes the film worth watching - but don't pay new release rental rates.

2. In contrast, consider the Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, a lovely, wonderful, fun film from France. Think of one of those children's books where the author seems to have thought up all of the most amazing and wonderful things they could have happen and then packed them all into a single story. This movie is one of those books, on film.

It is 1910. Adele is a journalist and a minor celebrity in Paris thanks to her recent book on the mysteries of Peru. Her twin sister is in a coma, and Adele thinks only the legendary skills of the physician to Ramses II can revive her. Fortunately, she knows a physicist who has figured out how to raise the dead. So she goes to Egypt and raids a tomb (outwitting her longtime enemy Prof. Dieuleveult in the process), taking the mummy back to Paris. Meanwhile, her physicist friend has brought a pterodactyl egg back to life -- as practice. The baby pterodactyl that hatches from the egg flies out of the museum and attacks a taxicab, driving it into the Seine. A VIP drowned in the cab, causing a major police investigation to be launched -- the President himself orders the pterodactyl investigated, since he thinks the anarchists are probably responsible for the flying creature.

That's the first 15 minutes of the film. And we haven't even gotten to the really amazing and outlandish events yet.

Standing somewhere between comedy and drama, the movie would be a fun romp under any circumstances, but the character of Adele makes it even more special. She's the kind of strong heroine I really wish we saw more of in the movies. She doesn't own a gun, she strikes all of one blow in the entire film... and yet she is even more awesome than Laura Croft. Nothing scares her, and nobody intimidates her. She never gives up, and by the end, her victory shows that you don't need to star in a violent action film to be a strong heroine who kicks ass and takes names.

Trust me, you want to watch this one.

3. Endhiran (the Robot). I watched the "best action scene ever" excerpt from this after it showed up on Boing Boing, and was inspired to seek out the entire film. It was quite the educational experience. Jackie Chan is the #1 actor in Asia, and he is widely known in North America. Rajinikanth is #2, and few people in North America have heard of him, which is on the one hand understandable, and on the other hand a pity.

Rajinikanth works in the Tamil-language film industry, the smaller southern cousin of Bollywood. And he makes traditional Indian films - which means films that feature a mix of comedy, romance, drama, action, surreal fantasy, and big production musical numbers that make Busby Berkeley's work look sane, sedate, and logical. Seeing one is an excellent way to remind yourself that genre conventions and genre boundaries are artificial and culturally variable. But since it is also an excellent way to get genre whiplash (where the rapid shifts, say from comedy to tragedy, make you feel alienated and turned off), they definitely aren't for everyone.

In any event, among those who watch South Asian films, Rajinikanth is huge - Just how huge is hard to get a grip on because I think you'd have to go back to the silent film era to find a North American actor (Fairbanks or Chaplin) with anything like a comparable degree of popularity... and then the comparison fails because popularity back in the 20's didn't function in the same way. The best analogy I've been able to come up with is to think of Michael Jackson back at the height of his career, back when he had his own Disney ride and his own arcade games and things became cool merely by being associated with him. Think of the way his fans went nuts when he came on stage. Now imagine that instead of being a musician, he was a movie actor, and his first appearance in every film was choreographed and scored so as to permit his fans to stand and applaud and cheer his first scene. That's kind of what Rajinikanth's popularity is like... only more so.

Hell, it's not just his first scene in each movie that's designed for people to applaud and cheer - his stage name ("Superstar Rajini") gets spelled out one letter at a time in the opening credits, in a larger typeface than even the title of the movie. This is one ridiculously famous guy. Which is kind of neat, in contrast to Hollywood's ageism, given that he is in his 60's and looks sort of like a Vegas-period Elvis.

Anyway, Endhiran is a SF movie set in India's near future. Rajinikanth plays both the genius robotics engineer (Dr Vaseejaran), and his android creation, Chitti. Vaseejaran builds Chitti and programs him with all kinds of knowledge, from dancing and drawing to martial arts and cooking. He intends to sell a line of Chitti robots to India's military, so I'm not quite sure why he programs him with gourmet cooking skills, but whatever. Once Chitti is finally finished and programmed, Vaseejaran takes him out of the lab to see how he functions in the real world, and there's quite a few "literal minded robot fails to understand human nuances" scenes, played for laughs. Meanwhile, Vaseejaran has been so wrapped up in building the robot that he has ignored his girlfriend, Sana, which shows just how obsessed he is, since she is so beautiful that her walking towards the camera causes the movie to run in slow motion. Sana dumps him, then they make up (cue the first of many song and dance numbers that take place in an entirely different location than the film's narrative).

There's a couple of extended sequences where Sana takes Chitti with her on outings and Chitti demonstrates that robots are a girl's best friend (he can clean house, cook gourmet meals, henna the hands of all her friends at warp speed, beat up thugs who threaten her, help her cheat on med school exams, and that's just for starters).

Eventually, Vaseegaran takes Chitti to a robotics conference and shows him off. His mentor and the man in charge of approving his bid to market Chitti to the military is extremely jealous because his own killer soldier robots are not even able to stand and walk across the room. Jealous mentor guy refuses Vaseegaran's grant request, on the not-very-logical grounds that the robot lacks a moral sense of right and wrong (like that's going to be a drawback in the minds of the military). So Vaseegaran tries to explain morality and ethics and human feelings to Chitti, but he gets nowhere until one evening the robot gets hit by lightning, after which it develops feelings and promptly falls in love with Sana.

Cue the most fantastical sequence in the film, where, in order to get a kiss from Sana, Chitti chases down the mosquito that bit her in her sleep, convinces the other mosquitoes on the riverbank to hand over their comrade, brings it back to Sana's apartment, and makes it apologize for biting her.

Vaseegaran is unable to deal with Chitti's love inspired insubordination, and junks him. Jealous mentor guy salvages Chitti from the junkyard and reprograms him to be Evil. At which point we start getting the events summarized by the youtube clip, as Evil Chitti makes an army of clones of himself, kidnaps Sana, and blows away huge numbers of cops and soldiers in what have to be some of the most over the top action sequences I have ever seen in my entire life.

Eventually Vaseegaran rescues Sana, destroys the Chitti clones, and restores Chitti's original ethical programming, but sadly the court orders Chitti to be dismantled, in a tearjerker finale.

So, that was weird, but in a very interesting and educational way. I'll be watching one or two more Rajinikanth movies in the future, but I doubt I'll become a fan.

4. "The King's Speech" is not every bit as good as its reviews say, it is better. I was especially impressed by the way Firth portrayed a gradual slow improvement in George's stammer over the course of the movie. It's a shoo in for several Oscars, but I think it probably has greater resonance for citizens of the commonwealth than for Americans, since the newsreels and recordings and historical photos that the film goes to many pains to faithfully recreate are not part of the American cultural DNA.
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