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Movie Reviews (In Praise of Love, Spirited Away, Spy Kids 2)

by Dave Heaton

In Praise of Love

Jean-Luc Godard's In Praise of Love (Èloge de l'amour) is perhaps the most beautiful-looking film yet from a filmmaker whose long career is filled with memorable images. In the film's two halves he takes two quite different visual approaches, each striking in its own way. The first half was shot on film in pristine black and white, a choice that's well-suited for the Paris setting. The second half is in color, and on digital video, yet he also uses a technique (which I could explain better if I understood anything about the technical side of film-making) to oversaturate the colors, making everything of an unreal brightness. There are pictures in this half of the film that I will never forget, particularly when he juxtaposes two images, placing a sunset or an ocean across a person's face. These images are visual encapsulations of an overall mood of melancholy that fills the film from start to finish. The basic plot of the film surrounds a filmmaker named Edgar (Bruno Putzulu), who spends much of the first half working on a project based around the idea of love. Throughout this section we also observe the people he is casting in the roles of the lovers, watch Edgar discuss the project with an art dealer he knows, and see Edgar get fixated on casting a particular woman (Cècile Camp) who he met in the past. This leads to the second half, an extended flashback to three years earlier, when Edgar meets the same woman while interviewing a historian. This section of the film heavily involves the woman's grandparents, who were part of the French Resistance in World War II and are essentially selling their story to American filmmakers who want to make a movie about it. But as with any Godard film, except maybe some of his earliest, summarizing the plot isn't the most important exercise. Though there is a plot, ideas and images are what's at the heart of the film. The ideas here concern history: who owns the past, how do other people use/misuse it, what are the effects of that, etc. There's much talk in particular about American filmmakers making fictional recreations of history and how that relates to the way the U.S. interferes with other countries. To be perfectly honest, I'd need to have watched the film in a more alert state, with a notepad nearby, if I wanted to analyze the ideas in depth or offer a complete critique of the film. It's a film that requires multiple viewings. There's plenty of great criticism being written about it by people with a more intellectual foundation in cinema than I. What I have to say is this: In Praise of Love is a gorgeous sight, a film you can sink into, that also will get you thinking.

Spirited Away

The highest-grossing film ever in its native Japan, director Hayao Miyzaki's animated children's tale Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi) has the delightful sense of creativity run free that is missing from all of its recent American counterparts. Animated films can take you places that live-action films cannot, as there are images, characters and situations that simply can't be captured as successfully by human beings on sets. Likewise, art aimed at children tends to have more freedom to it; the makers know that a kid will follow them wherever they want to go, while an adult who has shut off that side of his or her personality might not. Spirited Away follows a 10-year-old girl on an amazing journey, one that is a fanciful representation of growing up. At the start of the film, Chihiro is bratty and unhappy, sitting in the backseat of her parents' car with a frown, as they drive towards the new home that they're about to move into. Once they arrive, however, her parents' decision to explore mysterious ruins nearby ends up throwing her into a difficult situation, alone. For the bulk of the film, we are with Chihiro on her journey, which centers around a bathhouse for the spirits, filled with a variety of extremely colorful and unusual characters. These include Kamajii, an old man who lives in a boiler room and has the legs of a spider, Yu-baaba, an odd-looking sorceress, Haku, a seemingly-friendly boy who is also a spirit, and No-Face, a mysterious creature who lurks around in the darkness and may or may not be friendly. There's also a trio of heads that bounce around on the floor, an enormous baby, a radish spirit and much more. More playful in tone than Miyazaki's last film, the epic Princess Mononoke, this film nonetheless has serious undertones about how our actions affect the world around us. Absolutely captivating from start to finish, Spirited Away is one of the more involving and transporting films you'll see. It places you in a new world and lets it slowly reveal itself.

Spy Kids 2

El Mariachi, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty…Robert Rodriguez's films all have that B-picture, "we're just having fun making a movie" feeling about them. That's why him doing a children's movie made so much sense. Spy Kids was fun embodied, a giddy jaunt into the imagination of a child who grew up watching James Bond films. If it wasn't surprising that the first film's financial success turned it into a franchise, at first it was also a little disappointing, as I was set up to expect the worst. I was wrong, though, as Spy Kids 2 is at least as creative, funny and entertaining as the first film. With a coterie of good actors--including Steve Buscemi and Bill Paxton as well as the first film's stars--hamming it up and Rodriguez taking the story even further into the realm of the bizarre, Spy Kids 2 is great fun. The plot centers around an important device that has fallen into the wrong hands. Spykids Carmen (Alex Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara) Cortez go in search of it, as do a pair of competing spykid siblings, Gary (Matthew O' Leary) and Gerti (Emily Osmont) Giggles (whose dad is played, hilariously, by Mike Judge). The quest takes them to a mysterious island filled with creatures that look like the Ray Harryhausen-created monsters in adventure films like Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Those creatures are one brilliant filmmaking choice; another is the casting of Buscemi as the creatures' creator, a scientist named Romero. The nature of the genre ultimately leads the film down the friendliest path possible, as it becomes in the end a good-natured commentary on parent-child relationships. But along the way there's plenty of belly-laughs to be had, as well lots of adventure. If Spy Kids 2 can't appeal to your inner child, I don't know what will.

Issue 11, October 2002 | next article

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