The three films that I watched for the first time during the month of April are all, to a degree, “acclaimed”, if not critically, then at least among some of my friends. That last consideration drove my selection a bit, on the few occasions where I did find time to watch a movie.
|The 13th Warrior||1999|
As always, proceed at your own risk.
Fargo was one of those movies where I could enumerate quite a lot about what I liked, and yet conclude that my overall impression was “meh”. There were moments in it, where I thought the scenery and the visuals were remarkable in an understated kind of way. There are a number of strong acting performances – William H. Macy, especially, but Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi not far behind. There are some chuckle-inducing conversational vignettes that I would rate as outstanding.
And yet, I did not find the movie either especially funny or especially gripping. The chuckles was all I could offer in response to the sitcom bits. I am not particularly fond of on-screen murders of the “in a wrong place at a wrong time” kind. The investigation started brightly enough with Marge’s surprising CSI skills, but then deteriorated into chancy occurrences (culminating with Marge shooting Gaear and then being seen driving him in the back of her police car – can a 7-months-pregnant woman get a wounded 250-lbs guy anywhere by herself?). The suspense for plot resolution was solely in expectation of everything unraveling “Britcaper”-style, but the movie came up short in that respect. And I can only take so many of “Yah” being thrown around before going berserk. If that’s how Minnesotans truly speak, remind me to steer away from that state.
And can somebody explain to me why the movie is named the way it is? The opening scene takes place in Fargo, ND, but nothing else does. The rest of the movie jumps between Minneapolis and Brainerd, MN. The final scene is in Bismarck, ND. Why Fargo?
Subject matter aside, there is practically nothing that I disliked about Juno. Great performance by Ellen Page, complemented by what I thought were strong performances of every member of the main cast. Sharp dialogue, well-developed emotions, nice cinematography, timely comical bits deftly inserted into otherwise serious storyline. If I wanted to re-visit the choices a pregnant high-schooler is faced with, I’d mark this movie for a place on my DVD shelf. Alas, I’d rather wish the girl made some use of contraception. Of course, that would make for a pretty boring movie, I suppose.
The 13th Warrior was enjoyable in a heroic/historic kind of way. I like movies that depict civilizations of old, I like action, I like the idea of a band of selfless warriors saving the day, so a group of Viking warriors rising in defence of a besieged kingdom is a concept I can get behind.
My problem with the film was that it felt simplistic. Once the thirteen warriors started on their way, the action consisted of we fight, we are almost overrun, the enemy inexplicably retreats, we assess the damage, we prepare for the next battle, we fight, we are almost overrun… A daring strike into the heart of the enemy’s camp mixed it up a bit, even if it was seemingly useless to the advancement of our heroes’ cause. Most of the supporting members of the band did not survive the adventure, but the couple of leading ones, of course, did. The leader of the band and the most fearsome warrior of them all fulfilled his task and ensured victory – but was felled in the process. I more or less correctly guessed the fate of each of the warriors before the first of the swords was drawn.
The movie has some poignant moments, memorable lines and well-staged fights. Some scenes gloriously stretched plausibility beyond limits. The title character, Ahmed, quite well played by Antonio Banderas, learned Norsemen language via simply listening to it without translation for a day or so. I loved the way the scene of his learning and finally responding in a new language was filmed, and even though the feat itself was way too far-fetched, I recognize that it was a necessary liberty to take as far as the story was concerned. The Vikings had to respond in kind, so Buliwyf displayed his photographic memory by reproducing an Arabic phrase that Ahmed had wrote in the mud a day before. That was a powerful statement of Vikings’ mental agility in addition to their brawny force, and hugely symbolic in terms of two very distinct civilizations opening up to one another, despite its remarkable implausibility.
But in other aspects, the simplification felt nothing but convenient. The movie toyed with my expectations a little, by unveiling the formidable enemy to be not some fantastic powerful mythical creatures (there were a few hints suggesting that to me earlier in the proceedings), but rather a tribe of relatively primitive cannibals, formidable only because of its number. They seemingly were settled in their caves for quite some time, occasionally bothering the nearby Norsemen with raids, yet they waited to unleash their strongest attack until our warriors arrived. What we learn about them suggests that their society is comparatively unevolved, yet they are fairly organized in their battle assaults. There is no logical explanation to that, it just happens as a background that highlights the heroism of our warriors.
Despite its fairly high subject-matter fascination quotient to me, too many things made me shake my head during the The 13th Warrior, and, ultimately, the movie was no more than a middle-of-the-road viewing for me.
I am not at all sure that I will watch many movies in May…