I've seen a lot of good movies lately. All of these are highly recommended, despite my complaining.
Film: King Kong
General Impression: I was trawling through a video store while the giant-bug-attack scene was playing on the TV screens, and every single person in the store stopped what they were doing and gaped at the screen with their jaws hanging open until it was over. Tremendously creepy scene. The rest of the movie swings from one wildly implausible situation to the next (think dinosaurs fighting while swinging on jungle vines), but it never stops entertaining and never slows down long enough for you to realize how bizarre it all is. Andy Serkis is amazing (again), and The Empire State building scene is nicely done.
Part That Sucked: The portrayal of the natives. OK, I get that Peter Jackson is remaking a film from an earlier time and deliberately not updating it to reflect modern sensibilities, but still, this is a little over the top. The Skull Islanders aren't just aboriginals, they're also evil - you can tell by their crazed, glassy eyes and stringy hair, and the freaky, guttural chanting. What gives? He might as well have cast the Orcs from LOTR. Maybe he was trying to save money by reusing the costumes.
General Impression: Political violence and and our notions of when and how it can be legitimate is something I've always obsessed about (see here and here), and so it goes without saying that I found 'Munich' to be pretty fascinating. Oddly it reminded me of the Bourne movies -- heart-pounding action sequences set in the capitals of Europe -- and highlighted the truth that most spy movies are pretty empty-headed. Although it's probably to Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner's credit that they managed to anger both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian debate, I don't think the movie is best thought of as an opinion piece about the Middle East. The focus of its argument is on the psychological effects of violence on those who commit it. All told, an extremely exciting and thought-provoking film; rent this with 'Paradise Now' and talk amongst yourselves.
Part That Sucked: OK, this is more of a tangent, but one bit of the film that sticks with me is the offhand remark by an Israeli general that the targeted killings of the terrorists are unnecessary since Israel has alreadyretaliated for the Munich killings by bombing training camps (in Lebanon and Syria) and killing 60 (a Palestinian character later puts the number at 200). Still -- 60 people? All guilty terrorists we presume? Or maybe random people in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or if some were innocent, are we are to think that those killings are less heinous because they are 'accidental'? And then the movie asks us to agonize over the targetted killings? Perhaps we should be more worried that our technology now allows us to kill without directly experiencing the violence, and that that dehumanizes us even more. But that's a different movie, I suppose.
Film: The New World
General Impression: A beautiful film. It's opening mirrors both the opening passage of Howard Zinn's history and Wagner's narrative of innocence lost, with the shimmery prelude to Das Rheingold playing as the Virginia natives look out on the arriving ships of the English settlers. The movie barely manages a narrative, instead offering up a series of poetic images roughly telling the story of Pocahontas, John Smith and the Jamestown settlement. It bogs a bit in the middle, but the scenes in the native village and later when she travels to England to meet the royals are pretty much perfect.
Part That Sucked: Hollywood seems to have a one-hit-movie quota for beautiful, accomplished non-white and/or non-western actresses, and then it's back to television and independent films with them. Cases in point: Irene Bedard, Ming-Na, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Sarita Choudhury, etc. So its worth hoping Q'Orianka Kilcher, the young native actress who plays Pocahontas, gets to act in another movie again someday ever, and isn't doomed to a career of bit-parts on Law and Order.