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November movie roundup

Long days at the office, plenty of top-notch football on TV, numerous episodes of favorite TV dramas to catch up on – it all conspired to make for a month in which I was able to watch less than a handful of movies that I have not seen before. Of course, I actually managed for once to go and see a true new release, Quantum of Solace. The rest of my viewing this month consisted of 300, The Good German and a token relative “oldie” in the form of Scarface.

300 is the story of a band of elite Spartan warriors led by their king to a heroic stand against seemingly millions-strong invading Persian army. It is filmed in a way that strongly evokes the art of a graphic novel – and it is based on one, in fact, – with just a few colors in the palette and slowing the action down to almost still shots at intervals. I’ve never read the novel, but I could perfectly visualize it in its printed form while seeing the action on the screen. Rather artful. There is plenty of violence and death and gore – which is something I’m not really fond of – but it does not feel gratuitous or off-putting when viewed through the prism of this particular stylization. Conversely, some segments of the story are decidedly dark – and they take on an even darker quality when aided by this visual technique. Acting performances tend to get obscured by the visual originality in such movies, but Gerard Butler, as King Leonidas, and Lena Headey, as his Queen, have their moments. I can’t positively say that I liked the movie overall, but I definitely enjoyed the unconventionality of it.

The Good German is another stylization, a film-noir, actually filmed with equipment of the 1940s. Set in Berlin during the Potsdam Conference, it brought back a lot of memories of black-and-white Soviet movies about the Second World War that I grew up with. Again, top marks for a faithful rendering. The genre always felt to me a bit too heavy on style and too light on substance, and this movie is no exception. There is a good story being told, but it leaves the impression of the main character as a hapless chap, ambling from one beating to another, being lied to by everybody, who eventually stumbles onto truth both accidentally and quite illogically. Plenty of close-ups of various characters sternly staring at the hero’s back suggest their intimate interest in the proceedings, but some of the subplot lines – particularly, the actions of the Russian general (who, I believe, is seen wearing Field Marshal’s stars) – remain untied in the end.

That being said, the performances by the headliners (George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire) and by the supporting cast are quite good and the brilliance of nonconformity of the format – as applied to our “modern” times – is a considerable positive. While withholding superlatives, I still mark it a worthwhile viewing.

Which is not something I can say about Scarface. As it occasionally happens to me, I hear a movie being mentioned as a “masterpiece” or some such, eventually get to watch it with high expectations, and come away bewildered as to what is so great about it.

The movie must have had a big impact when it first came out to deserve all of those multiple stars that you see in viewing guides, but to me it was sketchy, composed of a somewhat disjointed series of high-shock-value scenes strung together, and lacking any serious or credible character development. We have an obvious criminal in Tony Montana who relies on his ruthlessness mixed with considerable spunk, with a fair helping of luck, to achieve his dream of power and money. His humanity leaves him gradually, culminating in him killing his best friend for the offense of marrying his sister, whom he incestuously lusts after himself. At the same time, he inexplicably stays humane enough to spare the lives of innocent children on one single occasion that ultimately leads to his demise.

His sister, his coke-head wife, his best friend, his boss whom he takes on and over from, drift in and out of various scenes that highlight his ascent and subsequent downfall, and, while some of their interaction with Tony is definitely instrumental in exposing the various facets of his character, you can’t help but think that their presence on screen is mostly ornamental.

Al Pacino projected plenty of anger and moxie, but little in the way of businessman cool that I expect a criminal lord to possess. I simply cannot believe that a coke-snorting, ill-tempered, conniving but impulsive murderous thug with bad social skills can rise to the top in any area and prosper for any extended period of time, criminal world or not. Maybe, it’s the involuntary comparison that I make between this character and Pacino’s Michael Corleone, or James Woods’ Max in my favorite Once Upon a Time in America, – not favorable to Tony Montana.

I did enjoy the visage of a young Michelle Pfeiffer – that was pretty much the only redeeming quality about this movie, IMHO.

And that was it in November.

As always, for the purposes of this blog entry, I’m only discussing the movies that I have just seen for the very first time. I don’t remember why I have this rule, but I do. Otherwise, I would have also included, for instance, a brief paragraph on how Top Gun starts looking progressively cheesier and sillier every time I come across it…


  1. Kisintin

    A silly thing about Top Gun, is I always dreamed of watching it on the theater type TV screen. It was always showing in the J&R model of home theater. Now that I’ve had a big TV set with all the bells and wistles, I haven’t watched Top Gun on it yet.

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