Thursday, February 24, 2005

Starting to get caught up: The Merchant of Venice and Witnesses

I haven't stopped seeing movies (not by a long shot!), but a few things have held back my ability to write about them in a timely manner: Mainly, my job moved to a spot even further into Waltham (actually, probably almost to the point of coming out the other side), which means rather than twenty minutes on trains every day plus ten minutes of walking/waiting, we're looking at fifty minutes on the bus. Not only is that an hour sucked out of my day, but it's also a lot harder to open up the laptop and write someting on the bus than the train.

So, bear with me while I catch up over the next few days - I think I've got eight movies to review before getting to the fifteen-movie Boston Science Fiction Film Festival/Marathon. And I may rearrange the order of some of these - not much, but just enough to put the three Korean movies together as a sort of theme posting.

(Oh, and thanks to whoever bought some stuff. Remember, any money I earn from Amazon goes into more movies purchased and reviewed, giving you more to read.)

Anyway, reviews. If we're going to have explicit themes for the next few posts, then let's call this "ethnic conflict in Europe, past and present":

The Merchant of Venice

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 February 2005 at Landmark Kendal Square #8 (first-run)

So, here's what we have: A well-cast, good-looking, nicely shot adaptation of one of Shakespeare's most famous plays, which is both faithful to the text and placed in its historical context. The catch here is that that play is The Merchant of Venice, which the march of years has made the most problematic of The Bard's "problem comedies". The anti-semitism smacks the modern viewer in the face under the best of circumstances, and director Michael Radford opts to be heavy-handed with it.

For a playwright less revered than Shakespeare, someone staging a modern adaptation might perhaps remove dialogue stating that Shylock is Jewish, or downplay that aspect of the character, or remove some of the vindictiveness from the courtroom scene. But this is Shakespeare, and while it may be necessary to streamline a play in order to fit it into the approximately two hours a movie is expected to run, and a director may opt to place it within another time period, changing the words themselves would be considered almost sacrieligious. The irony being that a play initially meant to be a crowd-pleaser, as most of Shakespeare's work was, becomes thoroughly unpleasant by the end.

Read the rest at HBS

Witnesses (Svjedoci)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 6 February 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Sunday Eye-Opener) (projected video)

Witnesses isn't really a war movie. It's got some thoughts on combat, soldiers, the homefront, and how war can sap the humanity from the entire country, and they're good ones, but nothing revelatory. As the name suggests, though, the war mostly acts as a backdrop for a crime story. And once you strip away the need for greater meaning, the end result is fairly solid.

There aren't many tears shed over a murder that takes place in a Croation village during the 1991-1995 war for independence. The victim is not Croation, and lives in a large house paid for via war profiteering. An army unit comprised mostly of local soldiers is in town, so there's no shortage of people who could have committed the crime. It also means that nobody is particularly willing to help; the investigating detective, Babir (Drazen Kuhn), is berated when he asks questions of neighbors - what does it matter who killed one Serbian? And, truth be told, he's distracted; his wife lies in a coma, shrapnel lodged in her brain. The only person who seems to actually be interested in solving the case is a pretty reporter (Alma Prica), who notices that a man alone likely would not have had chocolate-coated cereal as his last meal.

Read the rest at HBS

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