Friday, December 26, 2008
The Winter break seems to be my time to catch up on movie-watching--on television. I saw the better part of Apocalypto today and was not disappointed, or rather I was as disappointed as I expected to be, so I don't think this counts as disappointment. From the point of view of craft, Gibson knows how to assemble a movie and make startling images, and he seems to make movies that make money, and I guess that's the point. But a huge percentage of the film is essentially a chase-scene that recycles conventions not only 0f chase-scenes but of Old School "jungle" movies--including predatory cats, poisonous snakes, booby-traps, and (wait for it!) quicksand. Oh, how I loved quicksand in movies when I was about 11!
I also saw Goya's Ghosts, directed by Milos Foreman. Like Amadeus, the movie is, to some extent, about the artistic personality and about society versus art. The King of Spain, played by Randy Quaid, is a ditto of the King of Austria, played by . . .um, the actor who played the newspaper editor in Deadwood. Jeffrey is his first name, I believe. A visit to IMDB is required, I see.
It is not a subtle movie, and many scenes are predictable, such as when violence erupts and we cut away to . . . chickens. Later, when someone is being tortured to death, we cut away to a burro eating hay. The bad guy--a Catholic priest who later becomes a Napoleonic rationalist (and is a thug in both incarnations)--becomes a Christ-figure in the end. He's played nicely by Janvier Bardem. Natalie Portman is okay, but she's given about as much to do in the movie as most women are given in Hollywood movies, although this may be an "independent" Hollywood movie, meaning a bank somewhere else funded the movie, which was then distributed by Hollywood.
Goya is played by a Swede, Stellan Skasgard (circle over the second a), and that turns out to be a nice piece of counterintuitive casting. The movie's a pretty thinly veiled rant against torture and against the corrupting nature of all power (whether it's "rational" or "religious"). In the end, it presents a kind of Jonathan Swiftian, misanthropic view of history: same megalomania, greed, and pathology, different era. Pope, General, President, or Emperor: all the same.
After watching these movies, I took one of my "urban hikes" and ended up, as usual, at Starbucks, where I learned that the barista had worked 9 hours on Christmas Day and found the customers, including longtime regulars, grumpy. I commiserated on both counts and was especially careful not behave grumpily, not that I ever behave that way in a cafe. My sense is that most people over the age of about 11 are grumpy at some point on Christmas Day. There are so many reasons TO be grumpy. For one thing, it may not be a holiday or a holy day for a lot of people. For those to whom it is a holy day, the commercialism is distasteful. For everyone else except retailers (but including the front-line workers in retail), the commercialism is distasteful--not to mention exhausting. And there's all that pressure to be cheerful and have a good time. Also, in many cases, families are forced together. So Foreman's bit of Goya humbug seemed appropriate, even as I had enjoyed the 25th very much.
Because I walked after the sun had gone down, a family member insisted that I wear one of those orange and yellow reflecting vests. --Not a bad idea, except that I'm not a small person, so I looked like a bus. In fact, I walked past a bus-stop and someone waiting there looked disappointed that I didn't stop and open a door on my side. I merely smiled and said hello when I might have said, "Humbug." I went into Starbucks and ordered a cup of diesel.