Toy Story 4
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When I first saw this movie, I was only ten years old. Admittedly, I was impatient to see it because it was the first new musical to be released in my lifetime.
Looking back, I realized that this was not a smart decision as a considerable amount of maturity is needed to truly understand this complex film. A working knowledge of contemporary Latin American political history is also highly recommended. After having watched this film a second time, nearly 12 years to the day after first having seen it, I realize that this film is complex because it can be described on three levels.
On the first level, it is a political saga, chronicling the rise and fall of Argentina's most infamous power couple: Eva Duarte and Juan Peron. On the next level, it is a modern day fairy tale-come-true that inevitably turns into a tragedy because "happily ever after" ends up lasting for far too short a time. On the final level, it is a psychological exploration of an enigmatic woman who appeared to seamlessly possess both
Let's face it: The '70s are over. So are the '90s, when the music of the Euro-pop band ABBA was re-etched into the American consciousness in what I expected to be a campy fad of late '70s nostalgia. So why was this movie made? Now?
I LOVE musicals, and I am glad to see so many new movie musicals being made, but I was surprised by this choice. On one hand, Mamma Mia! would seem to be an obvious choice to make into a movie, since it has been the most successful stage musical of this decade. On the other hand I was concerned about how well it would translate to the screen.
As it is a "jukebox musical," which is just a nice way of saying a revue with some semblance of a plot, the show is primarily music-driven. On the stage, it is basically a tribute concert with little bits of dialogue thrown in to keep the story going, and if one pays close enough attention, there are even contradictions in history and geography between the song lyrics and the script. Therefore, I was surprised to learn that the movie would star Streep, Brosnan, and Firth. All of them are exceptional actors, but none of them are known for their singing abilities.
When I saw this movie, my low expectations were justified. The musical numbers were so mediocre that they seemed to be not much more than glorified karaoke. I'm surprised anyone would buy the soundtrack when they can buy ABBA's Gold album and hear basically all the same songs they way they were meant to be heard. Even the camera-work was disappointing as the musical numbers were shot in a cheesy, music video style.
If you don't mind watching A-list stars making fools of themselves, but having fun doing it, this film is for you. If you want to watch a serious or sentimental film, or if you want to enjoy distinctively catchy late '70s pop music, don't waste your time on this movie.
You know that you are witnessing an unusual love story when the most compelling romance on the screen is one between a simian wedding planner and a taciturn maidservant, but that is one of the pleasant surprises of this film. For people unaccustomed to Indian films, this film may be slightly disappointing. Even for an Indian film, Monsoon Wedding has an unusually large cast of significant characters, so it's difficult to keep track of who's who. If you are not used to Indian names, keeping everybody straight is even harder. The reason all of these characters exist is because the film is made up of numerous subplots that play out in parallel. Similar to other Indian films, the dramatic arc is not entirely direct, vacillating between sappy romance, revelry, and soap opera-style drama (though fortunately, it happens in under two hours). These aspects of the film can make the final, wedding reception scene appear anti-climactic.
In my opinion, this film also paints too pretty a picture of arranged marriages, as Aditi was lucky to have ended up with a man as handsome, charming, and understanding as Hermant.
Aside from that, this is an enjoyable movie. The music is hauntingly beautiful and the dance scenes are exciting. The attitudes towards homosexuality depicted in this film are unexpected and unusual, but I can't vouch for how representative they are of those held by upper-class Indian families.
I was interested in this seeing this film, mostly because I didn't understand how this film could possibly be interesting. As a child of the PC age, Helvetica was just another font to me. I knew that it was one of the first few generic fonts available along with Palatino and Times. I typically used the latter two, however, in personal documents or academic work. Before I saw the movie I was unaware of just how long Helvetica had been around or how ubiquitous it is. I was also ignorant of the symbolism that surrounded its introduction as well as of the debate that goes on among typographers, other graphic designers, and image consultants over the font's aesthetic and symbolic merits.
This debate is the focus of the bulk of the film and, honestly, it drags on a bit too much for the disinterested layperson viewer. What caught my interest is the passion at play regarding Helvetica. If I were to paraphrase the font's swelling proponents, I would have to resort to the language of absolutism, dubbing Helvetica as the "gold standard" for corporate branding and the "Platonic ideal" of a sans-serif font. There is, however, an equally impassioned cohort of people who, for certain reasons, associate Helvetica with fascism, the military-industrial complex, and/or the decay of society. The documentary doesn't take sides, but after seeing it, you will never be able to to look at Helvetica, the font, the same way again, as you will always notice it, and always see in it more than merely the type, but also a political statement.
I was disappointed by this movie. Only a few moments are truly insightful, such as the interview with an intelligent-design proponent or the closing monologue. Most of the movie is equal parts red meat and red herring, dished out by Bill Maher. Bill Maher primarily takes cheap shots at those he interviews, and he does not treat all religions equally, yet he does not acknowledge that fanatics of different religions are fanatical in different ways. He devotes most of his time to mocking, if not insulting, Bible-Belt Evangelicals. When he preaches to the congregation of a cramped truckers' chapel that freedom of religion is a right, but freedom from religion is a privilege, not even the straightest face could mask the palpable sense of condescension in the air. Bill Maher also tackles the easy targets of Mormonism and Scientology.
Bill Maher attempts to interview moderate Muslims, but then basically accuses them of being apologists for terrorism and hate crimes, and won't let them get a word in edgewise. The only Jewish leader that Bill Maher interviews is a leader so far out that he is despised even, or rather especially, by traditionally radical Jews.
Sometimes, the most compelling documentaries, though, are those that are learning/growing experiences for the filmmaker, and ones where the filmmaker takes both sides of the story. Bill Maher, however, clearly has a strict agenda and he appears as stubborn as those he interviews. In addition, Bill Maher never interviews atheist ideologues, nor does he mention that, despite the inhumanities executed in the name of religion, many of the cruelest dictators in recent history were avowed atheists.