Movies I've Seen in the Past Few Weeks
Children of Men
I'm trying to remember the last time I so taken with a film and I simply can't. I was just blown away by the world created here, by its organic, deep-woven feel. The much lauded and discussed long, long shots are as powerful and seamless as advertised, and do an amazing job of adding a feeling of complete naturalism to the film. As much as I love films like, say, the Star Wars films, and as much as they might feel "real" within their constructed universes, they don't feel "real" in the sense that this could all be happening right now. Children of Men does. The acting is uniformly excellent, with Clive Owen putting in probably the best "reluctant hero" performance I've ever seen and Michael Caine inhabiting his character so fully that you swear you know him. Even the score is spot on; haunting and beautiful and modern; for the first time in a long while I finished a film wanting to get the soundtrack. It seems premature to put a film on my all-time top ten list after just one viewing, but I suspect that after a second viewing it will easily be right up there.
Now, with all of that praise said, I did have one quibble. The central notion, that for eighteen years no woman on the planet Earth has given birth, is a good and compelling one, and one the film embraces and makes real. The scenes of masses of people grieving at the death of the world's youngest human were perfect. But the central drive of the film, the effort to get the first pregnant woman in decades out of England and to some rebel group felt a bit off. We get a brief discussion about how if she made her condition known to the government they'd take the baby and pass it off as a native (in this vision of the future, England has cracked down on illegal immigrants hard, putting them in camps and encouraging violence). But this felt slight, and as a result I was never quite sure why there was such urgency to get her out. In the end, the film overcame these objections through sheer storytelling power and an abundance of breathtaking and beautiful moments, but as the glow faded I did find myself coming back to that nagging concern. All the more reason to give it a second viewing though, right?
The Pursuit of Happyness
Will Smith his great, his kid is more than passable, and the story of triumph against the odds moved me and held my attention. So why, in the end, did I feel that The Pursuit of Happyness failed? Because, to me, a film like this has a very simple pass/fail litmus test. That moment at the very end when the Will Smith character gets the job, should elicit tears, or send a shiver down the spine - it should move you big time. And it didn't. So while I enjoyed the film, and recognized its virtues, in the end it failed in its very simple primary directive.
(I apply a similar litmus test to any version of A Christmas Carol. When Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning a changed man, and starts doing all of the good, giddy things he's done, I should be moved to extreme happiness, to tears of joy really. If I am, it's a good Carol. if not, not. This is why for me the Bill Murray version, Scrooged!, works. When he goes into his big monologue at the end, I'm moved to tears. So it works.)