Monday, April 9, 2007

Episode 26

Braveheart - Directed by and starring Mel Gibson, Braveheart is the semi-true story of William Wallace, a Scottish man who united his country in the fight for freedom against a tyranical English king. As a child, William Wallace's father and older brother were killed in battle. Too young to fend for himself, William's uncle Argyle (Brian Cox) took him under his wing, teaching him to use his brain as opposed to his fists. Years later, William returns to his home and re-unites with his childhood sweetheart Murron (Catherine McCormick). In his absence, the English King Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan) has hatched a plan to slowly wear down the rebellious Scots by controlled breeding. A law has been made that states that on the night of any Scottish marriage, the bride must have relations with an Englishman, this way the Scottish gene will slowly dissipate with future generations. Because of this, William and Murron get married in secret. However, when they are found out, William revolts against the English troops in his town, resulting in the death of his wife. This event sparks the fire in William Wallace's heart that sends him on a cross-country quest in search of freedom for his people and all of Scotland. It seems as though I should have caught this film before now, but this is my first time seeing it. My first thought is that I was surprised by the brutality of the fight/death scenes. I understand that this may come as a shock after such recent films as 300, but I have a feeling that my surprise has something to do with the fact that all the deaths were performed without the aid of computer effects. In fact, with the advent of incredible on-screen battles such as those in 300, the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and even the recent Star Wars films, I found the low-tech special effects and battle sequences in Braveheart to be a bit refreshing. Don't get me wrong, the visual effects in those films were all spectacular, but it's occasionally nice to be able to see the seams in a special effect. The same goes for science fiction films with computer generated monsters as opposed to stop motion animated puppets and guys in rubber suits. Every now and then it's nice to be underwhelmed by an effect, which in and of itself can be overwhelming (...if that makes any sense). As far as the plot of Braveheart, it's a fairly simple "quest for peace" style of film. I was worried going into the film with the knowledge that it is almost three hours long as I thought that it got off to a slow start. As soon as the rebellion goes into full swing, though, the pacing is perfect and the time flies by. Mel Gibson gives a solid performance, pulling off a Scottish accent pretty well (from what I could tell, keeping in mind that I'm no authority on the matter). McGoohan did a good job of making you hate him, as did Peter Hanley who played his son, the prince. Perhaps my favorite character in the film, though, was William's close friend Hamish as played by Brendan Gleeson. As I mentioned earlier, there are some particularly brutal scenes in Braveheart which I honestly think hold a greater emotional impact than similar computer assisted moments in more recent movies, if for no other reason than they just look more brutal and less visually fluid. There's a great moment in the first large scale battle of the film when Mel Gibson cracks a kneeling soldier on the top of his helmet with a blunt weapon and so much blood pours from his head that it looks as though there must have just been a balloon filled with red water under the helmet that broke with the impact. Also stunning was a scene in which Mel Gibson rides into a traitor's bedroom and crushes his head with a lead ball on a chain. I just love trying to figure out how effects like that were achieved. All in all, once the movie got rolling it was quite entertaining. It's good for evoking a few different emotions as well as churning up a few uncomfortable grunts during fight scenes.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is a documentary filmmaker who specializes in ocean life (a la Jacques Cousteau). His films were widely regarded as the best in the field until about a decade ago when interest in his work began to wane. While filming the first part of his newest documentary, Steve's life-long friend and partner was eaten by a sea creature that he claims was a shark covered in a leopard print pattern. His goal is to now film the second half of the documentary with the focus on tracking down and killing the shark, which may or may not exist. When no financial backers are convinced that Zissou has it in him to finish the rest of the film, in steps Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), claiming to be Steve's estranged son. After Steve invites Ned to join the crew of his ship (the Belafonte), he offers up his recent $250,000 inheritance to fund the completion of Zissou's latest documentary. Riddled with problems from the start, this latest expedition takes several very unexpected turns as Steve Zissou tries desperately to reclaim his former glory and avenge his friend's death in the process. I'm not entirely sure why I wanted to see The Life Aquatic. The simple fact is that I haven't particularly cared for any of Wes Anderson's previous films: Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums. I've never been delighted with Anderson's dry, quirky humor. That is, until now. If I had to think of one word to describe The Life Aquatic, I think it would have to be 'magical'. It has the qualities of a fantasy film in the vein of Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands which set it just outside of reality, giving it a very whimsical vibe. Little things like the played-down actions and/or reactions that the characters exhibit, the stop motion animated wildlife that could almost be real if you suspended your disbelief just a tad, and the incredible cutaway shots of the Belafonte make it feel like you're watching a live action cartoon. The story is touching, yet humorous, and every single actor/actress in the film is spot-the-fuck-on. In fact, this may be the first time that I've honestly enjoyed a performance from Owen Wilson. Also of note are Willem Dafoe, who makes an excellent supporting cast member in small doses as a Russian crew member, and Cate Blanchett who does an incredible job of injecting emotion into scenes while simultaneously showing very little, or sometimes no emotion at all. Jeff Goldblum was made for the part of Zissou's rival documentarian Alistair Hennessey, and the strong but subtle role of Zissou's wife Eleanor is magnificently handled by Angelica Huston. The Life Aquatic will lead you on the most emotionally confusing roller coater ride that you're likely to ever experience, ending with a punch in the chest at the climax, which I'm hesitant to call a climax. It's like the film reached into my brain and confused my senses so much that I fell in love with it without knowing quite why. I highly recommend The Life Aquatic to anyone who isn't too quick to stamp movies in the vein of Lost In Translation as boring.

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