Thursday, November 5, 2009

Three films: Stalker, Bright Star, 9

Stalker (directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)

This Soviet-era film (movie poster at left) is loosely based on the excellent short novel, Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The Strugatsky brothers wrote the screenplay. This is an extraordinary science fiction film, which I have only now caught up with. A Stalker is a guide who brings people into and out of “the Zone,” a region where natural laws do not hold, space and time are bent in curious ways and constantly shift. Missteps can be deadly. Within the Zone is a room with a powerful, inexplicable object. Scenes of decaying buildings and tunnels are wonderfully photographed. This multilayered film touches on an amazing range of topics: family and trust, social responsibility, the limits of science, and how we think about the universe. For me, it has vaulted to the front ranks of all-time best science fiction films. I can’t wait to watch it again.

Bright Star (directed by Jane Campion, distributed by Apparition, 2009)

This is the best romantic movie (and, yes, Romantic movie) I have seen in years. The story follows the love affair between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, told mostly from her point of view. Their relationship develops leisurely and naturally. It has little in common with Hollywood romance films, which rush from one plot point to another, constantly hammering at the audience with what emotion should be experienced at every step. Bright Star has everything: exceptional acting, dialog, cinematography, and a convincing sense of period. It even has intelligent discussion about poetry. It’s the sort of quality film that won’t get much recognition from the Academy Awards (see an earlier post about how wide of the mark the Oscars usually are). Perhaps they’ll give it a consolation prize for costuming.

9 (directed by Shane Acker, distributed by Focus Features, 2009)

As much as this film is a visual treat, the story is a disappointment. The CGI animation gives a spectacular sense of scale and details of cavernous cathedrals and other architecture are impressive. Alas, the story is full of inconsistencies, a kind of grab-bag of post-apocalyptic clichés. The MacGuffin, a talisman that canvas doll come-to-life, 9, unwittingly uses to activate evil mechanical forces, was apparently not necessary to trigger all the evil mechanical critters that 9 and his friends were fighting up to that point. The mystical ending is unsupported by the preceding story. The canvas dolls are reminiscent of the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, one of many subtle and not so subtle nods to that 1939 film.

Wikipedia on Romanticism
Wikipedia on MacGuffin

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