Thursday, September 25, 2008

Non-Book Reviews

Twin Reviews: YOU MEAN THAT'S IT?

Lust, Caution
2007, directed by Ang Lee

Apprentice Writer struggles to find words to express how much she felt frustrated by this film.

Directed by the respected Ang Lee, preceded by megabuzz, set in a fascinating time/place combination about which AW knew nothing and was eager to explore, with the still stunningly beauteous Joan Chen in a secndary role and the highly convincing young actress Tang Wei as heroine - it had all the elements of a fabulous film. And parts of it are. The premise is intriguing: a group of drama students in Japanese occupied China during WWII plan to assassinate a powerful Chinese collaborator via an illicit relationship with a young woman.


After all the pedigree and period costume and much-touted non-chronological sequence is stripped away, though, the overriding messages this viewer was left with were that women in groups like to gossip about shopping, and women individually secretly enjoy being dominated and physically abused, so much so they will sacrifice principles and people if someone flashes impressive enough bling.

Even without the female-negative messages, Apprentice Writer would have been unhappy because of the seeming total lack of movement in the sociopolitical context of the film. By the time end credits roll, the Japanese remain firmly ensconced in Shanghai and Chinese collaborators continue collaborating blithely on, as if the whole drama of the past couple of hours (for the viewer) and years (for the characters) made not the smallest blip. Which may, perhaps, have been the Big Point, but for AW it was all tremendously frustrating.


Having said all this, AW will concede that Tang Wei is an actress she hopes to see again, and that this film raises the silent, meaningful glance to an art form.

No Country for Old Men

2007, directed by Ethan & Joel Coen

Another movie reaping reams of praise and armfuls of Oscars, AW approached it with great anticipation. Ultimately unfulfilled.

A Texan hunter stumbles across the gory scene of what appears to be a drug deal gone wrong: human and canine corpses strewn about, large load of suspicious powder packets in pickup truck, and some distance away another corpse guarding a case containing wads of cash. A psychopathic killer meanwhile has been psychopathically killing, is called in to retrieve the goods, and the chase is on.

With the possible exception of Woody Harrelson's character, the acting was convincing. In Javier Bardem's case, riveting, despite sporting the worst male cinematic haircut since the teenager in "Little Miss Sunshine". The dialogue was convincing, the cinematography and pacing fine.


What left AW scratching her head about the accolades was in part, the feeling that she didn't really get anything out of it. Was the concept that it's risky to butt in on a drug deal gone bloodbathedly wrong news to anyone? Was anybody surprised that Tommy Lee Jones is good at playing crusty old curmudgeons? Is it really not possible to predict that someone described as a 'psychopathic killer' will be a little unpredictable and it might not be best to attract their attention?

And what left AW ultimately frustrated was the open ending, in a bad way, of the whole story. (The contrasting example of open-ended in a good way would be the Tom Hanks' movie "Castaway".) In the final confrontation between villain and innocent bystander when a challenge is issued to stand by choices rather than hiding behind the facade of chance, the viewer cannot be sure what choice was ultimately made. In another type of movie, that could have been a thoughtful and even satisfying cinematic decision. In this case, it nullified even the parts of the movie that AW thought were well done. Or perhaps this is just one of the those movies that you need a Y-chromosome to understand.


So, tell us, Gentle Reader: have you seen either of these films? Agree? Disagree?


Wylie Kinson said...

Two films that I've been itching to see,... but can never seem to find an opportune time.
When I do, I shall comment with something useful perhaps ;)

Abby said...

Have not seen the first film. Thought No Country was just utterly brilliant. Maybe it was my mood :)

You definitely missed some stuff - if you weren't sure of the outcome of that scene, then you missed the clues. They were there. As for the theme of the story - start with the fact that the main character's one and only unselfish gesture (bringing a man a drink of water) proves to be his downfall. And go from there :)

M. said...

wylie - i'll be interested to hear what you think!

abby - i watched late at night, so it's entirely possible i missed some essential bits. i did actually catch the bit about his very belatedly easing a dying man's suffering being the reason he didn't get away with it - and just really didn't know what the viewer was supposed to draw from that.

Julia Smith said...

I haven't seen either of these, but I have a feeling I'm going to love 'No Country For Old Men'. That's just the sort of person I am. I'm attracted to open-ended endings just because. And I do love Joel and Ethan Coen.

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