Babel

16 01 2008

BabelThe human condition spans continents, uniting us despite the gulfs created by distance, language and culture — this is the theme of Babel, the last film by director Alejandro González Iñárritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga. At least, that’s what I think the theme is, yet despite a nearly two-and-a-half hour running time, I’m still not quite sure.

The film follows four (sometimes tenuously) connected stories. In the first, a Moroccan goat farmer gives his two young sons a rifle in order to defend the goats from jackals. The second sees a nanny and housekeeper take her two young (white) charges across the border from the U.S. to Mexico in order for her to attend her son’s wedding. The third story has Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett holidaying in Morocco when Blanchett’s character is suddenly shot through the window of a tourist bus. (See where this is going?) Finally, in Japan we’re given the story of a deaf teenager whose disability isolates her from her peers, resulting in a kind of confused, desperate form of sexual aggression.

There is no doubt that, technically, Babel is an excellent film. The performances are all stunning and González Iñárritu’s ability to place the audience within each environment means that the jigsaw puzzle presented is never confusing or disorienting. His respect for each culture shines through, and there’s a real sense of credibility to the overall flavour and atmosphere presented.
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The Fountain

2 12 2007

The FountainThe Fountain has a troubled history as a production: originally cast with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett as the leads, the project was eventually shelved, only to be resurrected two years later with a scaled-back budget (less than half the initial budget of $75 million) and a new cast. To see the finished product, I can’t help but feel this was all for the best.

Hugh Jackman plays Tommy Creo, a research oncologist whose wife, Izzi (Rachael Weisz) is dying from a brain tumour. Parallel to this are two other stories: in one, Jackman plays Tomas, a Spanish conquistador who aims to assassinate Grand Inquisitor Silecio in order to protect his Queen (also played by Weisz); in the third, Jackman is Tom, a man hurtling through space in a spherical, translucent spacecraft. How these three stories relate to each other is one of the delights of The Fountain, and something that is best left for the film itself to reveal.

Writer/director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) has given us a film that possesses a depth of emotion and spirit few achieve. Its themes of mortality and grief are interwoven masterfully through its cinematic triptych as visual motifs recur again and again — the golden palette of the nebula featured in the third story, for example, is scattered throughout various scenes to remind us that these three stories are part of a larger whole.
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The Good German

28 11 2007

The Good GermanAs I’ve mentioned previously on this site, George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh have a history of collaborating on as many fringe projects as crowd-pleasers (though even their less mainstream films still have some sort of appeal for wider audiences). Falling more into the former camp is The Good German, Soderbergh’s attempt to recreate the film noir genre.

Of course, most filmmakers would be content to stick to using lighting, camera angles, editing and maybe black and white film to help set the tone, but Soderbergh has gone all-out, reverting to the technology of the era, including mics, lighting and lenses, to create a truly authentic experience. Couple this with the acting style and the dramatic film score by Thomas Newman, and the illusion that this is indeed a film from the ’40s is almost complete.

Yet somewhat incongruent to all this effort on Soderbergh’s part is a script that includes sex scenes and swearing. It’s not that Paul Attanasio’s screenplay is bad — it’s actually very good — but for this purpose it just doesn’t suit.
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