Pan's Labyrinth - This movie was not at all what I expected, which goes to show that while some movie previews give away all the best parts of the movie, others decontextualize the cuts so completely that the actual film is nearly unrecognizable. What I expected was a dark fantasy, something along the lines of (amusingly enough) Labyrinth. What it is instead is a very grim sort of fairy tale, set against and intertwined with an even more grim backdrop of war.
I didn't expect it to be violent at all (or at least, only in a fantastical way). The violence in this movie (and there's not a huge amount of it, but...) is some of the most graphically personal violence I've seen. It made me cringe, and I'm fairly desensitized to movie/tv violence. I pity the Troll's parents, who we had invited along - expecting, as I said, a completely different film.
I didn't expect it to be a feminist movie. And it isn't, overtly. When it was over, though, I realized with a bit of a shock that this was one of the very few movies I've ever seen that didn't have any victimized females. Living in our woman-as-sexual-victim culture, it nearly seemed to me that something was missing in this movie. Well, it was. In a good way. Don't misunderstand, bad things happened to the women in the movie...but they all dealt with it with such casual strength and matter-of-factness that it wasn't victimization. And none of the bad things that happened were sexual. Frankly, I found it stunning. Relevatory.
I didn't expect it to be shot in spanish and subtitled. It made me very much wish I had a better understanding of spanish, because I suspect (from the bits that I did get) that it was more hauntingly lyrical that way. I wonder if the folklore of the movie is based in the local area folklore, or completely made up. And whether there are actually stone ruins littering the countryside there.
It wasn't at all what I expected, and I'm so very glad that I got to see it.
My favorite moment: after the movie, when it was all sinking in.
Ghost Rider - With this one, I had no idea what to expect (beyond a flaming-skull character). At some point in the distant past, I must have read about the movie (and known that it was comic-book based), because it was one of my HSX stocks. But I had completely forgotten that, and didn't realize it again until the big Marvel Comics logo came up on the screen.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm a sucker for comic-book movies. This, despite the fact that I've never been especially into comic books (I've read the Sandman series, and Preacher - beyond that, though, my comic book knowledge comes from pop culture and friends). What can I say, I love the cheesy. This movie I enjoyed not just for it's comic-bookness, but also for the nostalgia value. It evoked my midwestern childhood - a world of monster truck rallies, formula 1 funny car and drag races, and Evel Knievel fangirlishness. I saw this one twice in theaters, once here with the Troll, and the other in Texas with my younger brother. I think he enjoyed it as much as I did, and probably for many of the same reasons.
That said, it wasn't what I'd call a fabulous movie overall. The dialog was pretty crappy (though not unexpectedly so for a comic book film), the romantic story had a tacked-on, useless feel, and had I cast the bad guys, they would have been COMPLETELY different. COMPLETELY, I tell ya. Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles just didn't do it for me, among other issues.
Still, I don't regret the money I spent on it, and it left me with happy feelings.
My favorite moment: The look on the manager's face when the stadium ceiling pulls back to reveal the helicopters.
300 - My very first thought while watching this movie was "Oooh, pretty!". And it was. Much of the world created by the makers was sepia-toned, with fantastic backgrounds and some great slow-motion action. The sad part about it was that after the first 30 minutes or so, it stopped being breathtakingly, gorily beautiful and became just part of the scenery.
...I'm sorry to say that this film left me so irritated that I spent a great deal of the film rolling my eyes in exasperation. I know I'm in the minority on this, and that most people thought it was a great, wonderful action feature in which they could cheer the underdog. This movie tries for a balance between graphic realism and
For those of you who are sure to ask, some of the things that annoyed me were niggling little points about common sense and warfare. I can usually ignore that sort of thing for the sake of a good story, but in this movie there were Just. Too. Many. Throwing dead bodies into your own well? WTF? Coming through a lovely bottle-necked pass to minimize your exposure and then JUMPING OUT IN FRONT OF IT, EXPOSING YOUR TROOPS COMPLETELY to battle an army?? WTF, BBQ??! Having the bad guys pass out bribes of gold STAMPED WITH THE BAD GUY FACE. 'cause, yeah, gold that you can't spend comes in so useful.* Using "Take no prisoners!" as a battle charge when you've only got 300 guys? Huh??? Of course you're taking no prisoners, moron, what the hell would you do with them? Alienating the one guy who can expose your secret weakness? Who the hell taught you tactics?? It would have been more intelligent, AND more in character, to have just killed the guy outright. The list goes on, and that doesn't even scratch the "american-male-military-idealization of Sparta" side of my annoyance. I'll leave that out, 'cause (I keep telling myself) it's a comic book movie.
And OMG, propaganda much?? If it were any more heavy-handed, they would've had to have the Spartans singing the Star-Spangled Banner as they marched away. Crikey.
Now, I'm not in the camp that thinks that the Persians in this movie are intended to represent modern-day Iran/Iraq. Or rather, I am, and I'm not.
Let me try to explain. I think that the original comic by Frank Miller probably has an audience for whom that is a valid and clear message. I think that the folks who read that probably know that ancient Persia included parts of the world we're currently at war with. I think that Frank Miller as a person** probably intended that (I base this on what I've read about him) as a patriotic, "Go Team" kind of message.
I don't, however, think that most movie-goers have any clue where Persia was, or that it has any connection with the middle east (hell, most of them probably don't know that Sparta was in Greece). I think that most of the american public (and the film director, who I've read several interviews with) is flatly too stupid to get it. And I think that many of the people who are politically and historically aware enough to get it either already agree with Miller, or they see it clearly and discount it in order to enjoy the story. Or, like me, they simply found it annoying. So basically I think that while it could be an intended message, it fails.
All that said, there are some other messages in this film that I find to be more subtle, pervasive and frightening...the first and foremost of which is "OBEY THE KING". If you don't obey the king you're a traitor and a rapist, and you should be killed in the most dishonorable, emasculating way possible. Which brings me to disturbing message #2: If you're female, your only value is for sex and dishonoring enemies. Ugh. I wanted to wash my brain out with soap after watching this movie.
My thoughts at the end of this movie were: O.M.G. SO. INCREDIBLY. OVERWROUGHT. Could they get any more gaspingly melodramatic?
My favorite moment: When I realized that Xerxes was a Goa'uld, and that this was really a Stargate crossover fic. I seriously had to clap both hands over my mouth to keep the raucous cackle from escaping. I nearly choked myself.
*Okay, that one could be a gimme - the traitors who were bribed could have seen the size of Xerxes' army and figured it was a done deal, and that they'd be able to spend it freely in just a few weeks. But that brings up the question: If Xerxes' army was so obviously and arrogantly invincible, what would be the point of bribes? Also: if YOU were bribed by a foreign power who gave you damning evidence as a bribe, would YOU carry it around with you??? Or would you hide it someplace that a) you wouldn't expect anyone to find it and b) if it were found, couldn't be directly connected to you? And finally: How did Xerxes' agents GET to the temple to bribe the oracle-keepers? Was there a special, easier trail somewhere marked "foreign agents enter here"?
I'm just sayin'.
**I also think that Frank Miller as a person is a broken one, after 9/11. He reminds me of a once-friend of mine, D. D, for all the years I knew him, was a pacifist. He chained himself to military sites to protest nuclear bombs. He was an active voice for peace, humanitarianism and democracy all his life. After 9/11, he turned completely around, as if someone had flipped a switch inside him. He's now rabidly conservative (despite the fact that conservatism directly damages many of his interests), and pro-war (and downright bloodthirsty, at times). Broken. It's the only way I can think of him. The events of that day broke my friend. His once sharp and critically-thinking mind no longer functions as it should. Where once he would have delved into the intricate realities of the current world situation and formed his own opinion, now he is so rapt in his own emotional chaos that he can only blindly follow politically-produced propaganda. I suspect that day may have done the same to Frank Miller.