Posted on 3/10/06 09:38 PM
... and there's never a good excuse for that, really.
Anyway, saw the Oscars the other day. On the bright side, I loved the ceremony. On the downside... oh, well. Crash and Hoffman winning? Come on. Among all the great performances last year, they choose the one based mostly on affectation? Yeah, yeah, PSH did a fantastic job and all, but still.
And Crash is a good movie with a brilliant cast, but more than a little concerned with being important. When that sort of thing is obvious (i.e. when I keep being whacked over the head with sentimentality in order to grasp the rather cliched point -- or points -- the movie is trying to make), it takes a lot away from the substance of the movie. Basically, it goes over the top on more than one occasion script-wise and, uh... I don't react well to pretentious. No DVD for me.
Good Night, And Good Luck is the exact opposite. All substance, no self-importance. And one hell of a cast. The script has a documentary feel to it and the characters would probably seem more marginalized if most of the actors weren't seasoned pros. Great timing for such a movie to come out, tons of stuff that's relevant to today's society, fantastic use of black and white... Thumbs up. And man... that Clooney guy certainly has style.
My personal favourite that got a nod at this year's awards was Junebug. Lovely cast, lovely character development, lovely story. Proves that a movie can be all kinds of soulful without going off to melodrama land.
My personal favourite last year was Serenity. Considering the story of how it got to be made, I'd say one of the most important movies, too. I'll fess up to a personal bias when it comes to the Whedon oeuvre because I've been anticipating this one since the show got cancelled. Surprisingly, I managed to stay away from the spoilers completely, so I ended up taken aback on more levels than one. I'm too big a brat to attempt a review without spoilers, so you've been warned. ;)
First off, this is not the Joss Whedon who gets you hooked with his perverse sense of humour; heroes of the upcoming apocalypse getting distracted by Vegas slot machines, geeky demons, villains wise in the ways of spray-painting the Death Star on their vans, etc. This is the stuff that sparked academic debate and inspired many a learned essay in the Buffy prime. Yes, the trademark humour is there, but the movie is very sombre, on the whole. Incredibly layered, thick with symbolism, and very, very dark.
[color=wheat]The exposition is just flawless. We are introduced to the universe through the Alliance's take on history, which turns out to be River's dream/flashback, then pulled forward to her rescue from Simon's POV, and then we finally get to the present tense, where the Operative is reviewing the security recording. He looks at River and asks: "Where are you hiding, little girl?" The answer appears in the form of the title of the movie. As credits roll, we are taken through the interior of the ship and we meet the whole crew in one fluid sequence.
The hero is defined early on as the one who gets other people killed. The movie sticks with the definition throughout: Simon puts the crew at risk just because he wants to keep his sister safe, the Serenity crew puts all their allies at risk after escaping from the Operative, the Alliance screws up majorly after attempting to create world peace.
The antagonist is more of an anti-hero than a villain. He is the true representative of the force of faith, which is probably the only real hero in the movie. He ends up saving the day in the end. From the start, he is shown with a degree of ambivalence. Himself a man who has sacrificed his life to a cause, he comforts his victims by telling them there is no shame in their deaths. He recognizes love as the strongest force in the universe, a statement that is echoed by Mal at the very end.
Mal is colder, more calculated, more wary of taking risks and endangering his crew than he was in the series. What strikes me the most is the emphasis on the interrelationships between the crew and the progression from Mal, the old-fashioned, romantic, principled anti-hero in the series to Mal, the uncompromising Captain in the movie. His moral strength manifests differently once he has spent time away from Book (the pillar of virtue in the series) and Inara (the love interest). This change is shown mainly in his conflicts with Simon and Kaylee early on. Jayne, who reflects Mal's fearful, survival-oriented side, asks him at one point how many people from his platoon survived the Battle of Serenity Valley and the answer to that question seems to be the driving force behind Mal's decisions in the first half of the movie. That is, until Book reminds him: "It's not your way, Mal."
Book himself is revealed as a possible former Operative, which blurs the lines even further. Operatives, as we learn, are idealists, tools of the Alliance, outsiders. Their belief in their cause and their understanding of human nature are acute, but in a intellectually removed kind of way. Their devotion is to a cause first and to the people who benefit from that cause second. Once that focus shifts to the second, they may take refuge in spiritual rather than political waters. In other words, they may find serenity. (Or, yeah, they may just end up floating in space.)
As for the idea of serenity... There is a conversation between Jayne and Kaylee that reveals another layer in the movie. Jayne wonders how Reavers got to be that way, reminding us of the old story; that they reached the edge of space and saw nothingness. Kaylee responds by saying that it can get very lonely in the black, that they themselves are isolated, and that the ship will drive them all off, one by one. A more literal parallel is drawn between Serenity and the Reavers when Mal decides to disguise the ship in order to make it safely to Miranda through Reaver territory. Serenity becomes death in that sequence.
The most prominent theme in the movie is precisely this fine line between serenity and death. (The idea of creating a world without sin turning into a whole planet full of dead people and having 10% of the population turn into monsters.) Between the technical brilliance of the script, thematic resonance pervading so many details in the movie, Whedon's Tempest fetish, the cast, the dialogue, the story itself... I just can't get enough of this movie. Hope to see more of the Firefly universe in the future.