movies good and bad

Last weekend we finally got to see The Illusionist, which I liked very much. I think it's too bad that it and The Prestige were released at the same time, because the concept and marketing behind The Prestige might cause a lot of people to overlook this film: tricky structure, masculinist rivalry vs a solid story with interesting characters that happens to also use magic as one of its central themes. And, given the prejudices of reviewers, a film with a love story is rarely going to get the kind of fan-boy response that a violent rivalry will. All this is too bad, because The Illusionist is really well done -- and, most important to my mind, it doesn't violate the expectations that it sets up. The Prestige is trying so hard to be tricky that it evacuates the story of any content. Tricks alone don't make a magician -- or a movie. (Remember the first time you saw a film by Shyamalan? and then the second, or third?)

Ever since I saw an early trailer for Marie Antoinette about a year ago, I wasn't sure what to think -- I was halfway intrigued, and halfway concerned that it could just fall flat. So I went to it with lowered expectations -- which meant that I was absolutely thrilled by the experience. It's not a film for everyone -- but I really liked it, and was glad to see it on the big screen. It's a tremendous spectacle (even involving some shoots actually at Versailles) -- and the furnishings and costumes and decadent aristocracy are all really the point of the film. Coppola's postmodern look back at the ancien regime is appropriately irreverent: sympathetic, celebratory, and critical at different moments. What really worked for me was the way the soundtrack elaborated the film as equally, simultaneously commenting on the 1980s. I'm in the right age demographic for such a cultural history -- I suspect that for some viewers the resonance of Siouxsie and New Order would be lost -- and I also appreciate the way the film tries to both meet and undo the expectations of "costume drama" or "period piece." It is, and it isn't. There's relatively little dialogue -- and of course the plot points are already known. So what the film records are smaller-scale portraits of mood, feeling, and flavor. One of my favorites in the past several months, I think.

And then, after last weekend, we totally struck out last night at the metroplex. We went to see Little Children -- it's got great actors in it, and the material seemed interesting (though I haven't read the book). Oof. We arrived a couple minutes late, but I don't think that made any difference. We only stayed for 10 minutes or so because it has an unbearable voiceover narrator. And for all the talent in the film, it surely wasn't evident on screen. GF said that it was like watching an audio book, and it really was. Kate Winslet would say a few lines of dialogue, and then the narrator would cut in "She wondered if she should say more." etc. Awful. Especially since he sounded perilously close to the Moviephone voice. We just couldn't take it.

So we left, and the only film that we hadn't seen that would start in the next 30 minutes was Flags of our Fathers. GF is a big Eastwood fan, so we went. It was grand in scope, and sometimes instructive or moving. But gloppy, overly reductive, and overly repetitive. And way too long. It'll be all over the Oscars, and the reviewers are loving it. But we were sorely disappointed.