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Iceland At Its Musical Best

23 Feb

Movie Review:  Heima

Rating:  5 stars

Foreign films can be a little daunting because it’s hard to read subtitles and watch the action at the same time.  Yet, American movies have become tedious in their predictability:  car chase, gunfire, explosion.  At least foreign films give you an alternative;  they show you what life (and attitudes) are like in other countries.  It’s nice to find one that is also relaxing to watch–especially for music lovers.

Photo from website http://www.sigur-ros.co.uk/

The movie Heima is about Iceland’s most famous band, Sigur Rós, a downtempo, alternative music group with a unique sound.  If you haven’t heard them, follow this link to their website:

http://www.sigur-ros.co.uk/media/

But the movie is as much about Iceland as it is about the band.  These quiet, dignified musicians reflect Iceland’s quiet, dignified society.  The movie follows the band as it travels around the island, giving brief concerts, most of which are held outdoors or in small town halls in midsummer.  Life in Iceland, just south of the Arctic Circle, is interesting–at Summer Solstice, the days there are 21 hours long, and at Winter Solstice, only four hours.

Photo from travel agency iceland2go.com

Without advance publicity, the concerts attracted a cross-section of people.  The events became family affairs with every age group represented:  adults, young children, adolescents, old people, and babies.  Absent were the aggressive fans and fawning groupies that mar many audiences.  Icelanders treated the band cordially, politely, and as equals.  People in the audience moved around freely and casually, reacting to the presence of this excellent band as a natural occurrence.

 

The Icelandic people were beautiful; many had the white-blonde hair of their Scandinavian ancestors.  Many wore handmade sweaters with Nordic patterns knitted from local wool. These gorgeous sweaters can be bought online from the Handknitting Association of Iceland.

Handknit sweaters from local wool by the Handknitting Association of Iceland

The vast majority of the movie took place outside.  Everywhere, the camera focused on broad expanses of sky, land, and water.  Every scene showed a love of nature.  Without drama or sentimentality, the movie succeeded in being poignant yet joyful.

Icelanders appeared to be one of the most laid-back civilizations of modern times. They seemed to be universally calm and centered.  Average citizens performed folk music or demonstrated art without a trace of attention seeking behavior.  In one funny scene,  a church group hauled a Kawai keyboard out to a field, where the organist sat on a roll of fencing and the choir sang robustly–as cars rolled by on the freeway!  In another, the band assembled inside a cave and played a large xylophone made of sawed pieces of rock.  Each musician took up a pair of mallets, claimed an octave, and added a musical part.  The result was mesmerizing.

Very little of the sparse dialogue was subtitled. Translation was unnecessary.  No profound meaning was loaded into conversations. And yet, like life, every simple action was loaded with emotion.  Pride, a sense, of belonging, sincerity, and a generosity of spirit came through clearly in these steadfast, sturdy inhabitants of a unique and rugged land.

For all of these reasons, Heima is a movie worth watching, even if you aren’t a fan of Sigur Rós.  But if you are, you will be rewarded with hours of glorious, soaring, serene music, featuring the angelic voice of its vocalist.  Don’t miss the experience.

–Chris

Two Fantasy Travel Movies

13 Jan

The return to the forsaken middle school was always imminent throughout the holiday break. I suppose I took my freedom for granted, but now it’s too late. Christmas is over. It’s 2011. School is in session. Needless to say, I miss the holidays already. I can only look back and smile. I remember two movies I saw over the break: The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Gulliver’s Travels. These are both movie adaptations of fantasy travel-themed books. I’ll start with the latter.

 

Promotional Poster for the movie. Break free of the strings, Gull!

Gulliver’s Travels

(PG)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

 

Jack Black, renowned funny guy, has acted/voice acted in a lot of movies before, but this is his first time producing one. All in all, not bad for the first try.  It is not entirely like the original book, but they revised it to fit the present day. (Watch for the hundreds of pop culture references.)

 

The movie stars Lemuel Gulliver, a guy who’s worked in the mail room of a newspaper for 10 years. One day, he tries to get at least one thing done: Ask out the cute travel editor Darcy Silverman. Instead, he chickens out (I can relate) and instead takes an application form for a travel writer job. The next day, he returns with a few (plagiarized) sample articles. He gets an assignment right off the bat to go out to the Bermuda Triangle. Boy, does he get lost! After sailing through rough water into an upward whirlpool, he finds himself in the land of Lilliput, where everyone is about five inches tall and British. He at first, is treated like a monster, but through a strange turn of events, he becomes a hero, much to the dismay of Lilliputian General Edward. Gulliver soon reshapes Lilliput into a modern-day metropolis, where he is treated like the great hero he said he is. Needless to say, he lied. I’ll leave the rest to moviegoers. (Me no like spoilers.)

Comedy is common, but sometimes it seems like it goes a while without a chuckle. Some of the dialogue and emotions can seem a little hollow, too. But all in all, this movie is pretty good.

Another promotional poster. A dragon, a lion, a boat - this poster has everything!

The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

(PG)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

 

The fifth book in the renowned Christian allegory series is now a movie. (My mom was particularly excited for this film, since it was the first Chronicles of Narnia she read.) In this chapter we say goodbye to some characters while bringing in a few new ones, most notably, Eustace Clarence Scrubb. (Have you ever heard such a horrid name?)

The older siblings Peter and Susan have moved to America, while Edmund and Lucy stay with their obnoxious cousin Eustace (The movie’s provider of comic relief) until WWII ends. Lucy and Edmund are looking at a painting of the great sea one day, and they think the ship in it looks particularly Narnian. Right on cue, The painting starts spouting water. Lucy, Edmund, and unfortunately Useless, er, Eustace, are engulfed in the torrent of the leaky landscape. Next thing you know, they end up in Narnian waters. Their old friend Prince Caspian saves them and takes them back to his ship, the Dawn Treader. Eustace is mortified, what with being stranded on a boat in the middle of nowhere. Then he sees the abnormally-large talking rat Reepicheep. Oh yeah, and the minotaur. Anyway, Caspian and his crew are on a quest. They need to find seven lost Narnian lords. They also need to find a source of an eerie green mist and save the people it has been swallowing. Of course, the two are somehow linked. Each lord has or had a magic sword that can dispel evil. (Hmmm… Collecting seven magic swords… I have an idea for an RPG!) Through the battle against evil, they must combat the evil within themselves, and grow into heroes.

This movie has phenomenal effects, and a great plot. C.S. Lewis would definitely be proud of what his stories have become. Definitely my favorite Narnia film yet.

-Hunter

(Thx to Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. for photos.)

Money Should Go Back to Sleep

16 Dec
This overly-cinematic follow-up to “Wall Street” from the 1980s tried too hard to outdo the original movie. Its unrealistic plot was hard to follow and ruined the enjoyment of what could have been a successful sequel. — Chris

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (PG) Rating: Two and 1/2 Stars out of Five

The title to this review is, perhaps, a bit misleading. I did not hate or even really dislike the sequel to the 1987 blockbuster Wall Street that much. The story was essentially similar: A young stockbroker, Jacob Moore (Shia Labeouf), is quickly and easily seduced by the prospect of easy money, even if the means in which he receives it may be edging on illegality, and Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is just the veteran mentor to show the young naive how to live life to the fullest. In the film, he has recently been released from serving time in prison for doing essentially the exact same thing in the 80’s. The director simply had to transpose his plot onto the recent economic crash and recession. This did not bother me; I had not seen the preceding film, so I did not mind.

The negativity I feel toward the film is due to the resolution–it was much too cinematic. The characters all found some resolution, even if it was small. Resolution is an elemental point of storytelling; in the film it was appropriate that some should be found. However, sacrificing true representation of the facts for a feel-good, happy ending is unacceptable. America is still very much in financial limbo, the economy is not “healed,” and (I hope) most stockbrokers involved in illegal trading are in jail. There is no big, happy ending in real life. WE ARE STILL IN TROUBLE. We are not resolved!

Moore and Gekko should have had to pay for their involvement in “dirty” trading. They should not have gotten off clean. The two, so-called “antiheros” even finished the movie happier then they were at the start; they were almost unfazed by the horrible mess that they caused. This conclusion is neither true nor fair. In my opinion, the movie was too much too soon–the unrealistic, perfect resolution at a time when almost nothing has been resolved was inappropriate, to say the least.

Visually, the movie was of good quality, with realistic, yet average cinematography and a few parlor-trick camera angles, in other words, the usual “movie” experience. The characters walked through the crowded streets and rode on the airless subways on location, giving the movie an almost eerie feeling. The financial terms were never explained well enough for the layperson to comprehend, so one watched the movie with the same glazed unsuspecting look as he did when the actual financial crisis struck.

The movie featured moments of such rapid movement and flashing lighting that one felt as though the world were spinning round him. Other shots sported gaudy decor accented by an overwhelming, deep red. Both of these scenes, in my opinion, were attempts to justify the actions of the brokers involved in the crash. They tried to express a feeling of overwhelming lust for fortune combined with a sense of drunken stupor in which the vibrant lights of Times Square blurred into one massive maze of swirling color, indiscernible to the naked eye, to express the ethereal feelings which these men and women felt, swept up in the moment. They yielded an effect similar to a small child, who has been found standing next to the Mona Lisa, ripped and stained on the floor, crying, “I didn’t do it! Its your own fault for letting me look at it!”

I applaud the director, Oliver Stone, for trying to see both sides of this story, but he might have waited until America’s hatred of stockbrokers died down a bit before he tried diplomacy.

I may be alone in my judgement, for many thought that the movie was “thrilling, riveting, a flashy, free wheelin’ affair,” but mostly they gush over how well Michael Douglas fit back into his role and how appropriate the actors were. Almost none speak of the plot, and if they do, it is in passing, such as, “Shia Lebeouf plays the Charlie Sheen role,” suggesting that the plot is essentially identical for at least the main character.

But, as I said, I did not hate or even really dislike the movie that much, and it is simply my personal opinion that this movie is ahead of its time. I believe I would have loved the film if the resolution in the movie had already happened in the non-Gekkonian stock market. — James

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