Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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"The Car Test"

In an era where most movies are trying to whack you over the head with their slick photography, frenetic editing and overblown spectacle, John Carney's thoroughly understated Once seems to be an anomaly. It almost feels like it escaped from another decade, concentrating on human interaction and inspiration. There is little in the way of plot; a vacuum cleaner technician (Glen Hansard, who lead the band The Frames, which Carney was in) supplements his income by playing his old, broken guitar in the street. One day a woman (Markéta Irglová) strikes up a conversation about his music with him; she was trained as a concert pianist and recognizes his talent. Their friendship grows and they become collaborators; there is a mutual unfulfilled attraction between the two of them that ends up being the creative impulse for their expressive songs. Their relationship and its effects on their lives is what the film follows, but the core of the film is their deep love for the music.

This isn't the type of film to have big blow-outs or soul-searching dramatic scenes, the characters instead expressing the inexpressible through their songs. As a result, there are extended musical sequences in the film when the characters are writing or performing songs, often playing out them out in full; if one wishes to praise the cast it should not be just for their naturalistic performances, but for their musicianship as well. There is an unrefined quality to most of the songs, which is fitting as the viewer is hearing most of them in their unfinished state, but they are also very emotionally engaging and illustrative of the characters, whom one gets to know very well despite never learning their names. The tension between Irglová and Hansard is what generates a lot of their inspiration for the songs they write over the course of the movie, and their goals are modest enough - one might even say 'working class' enough - to be completely believable.

The film might strike some as being slow, and it might frustrate others waiting for a more traditional "underdog makes good" storyline, but this isn't that film. There is humor as well, but it is generated from situations, dialogue, and affection for the characters; a memorable sequence features Irglová, who has gotten Hansard to agree to look at her malfunctioning Hoover, ends up walking around Dublin with her vaccum cleaner in tow like a dog. It is shot by Tim Fleming in a very straightforward docudrama style, often guerilla (at times, one can see people accidentally glancing into the camera). The movie keeps itself quite real... what is perhaps the most significant line in the film is spoken by Irglová in Czech, but Hansard never understands what it is that she said - and as it is not subtitled, neither did I until I researched the film prior to writing this. It is also open-ended... the fates of the characters are left to the viewer to decide, the movie instead concentrates on capturing that one moment that changed so much for them. Well worth seeking out if you want a change of pace from this summer's deafening and lackluster blockbusters.

For the most part, I felt it was really good. As it is the first of the books not to take place primarily at Hogwarts, it represents a giant shift in tone; this book is much more action-oriented than any of the others have been. I felt that placing the protagonists on the run for the bulk of the book worked very well; the level of paranoia evoked in this book makes Order of the Phoenix look like Sesame Street; the vision of the world under Voldemort's yoke is indeed a frightening one, and one that is in keeping with how this world has been illustrated thus far. There are many very well done character bits, including some peaks into Dumbledore's past that show him in a very different light, some harrowing escapes and quite a lot of Harry wrestling with the enormity of his task. All great.

I very much liked that while Hermione does her best to be a walking magic encyclopedia, Ron has a better grasp of many aspects of the Wizarding World. His recognizing the fairy tales off the bat that Hermione has to read about was a great evocation of cultural differences. His 'defection' was also well handled, especially his return, which could easily have read much worse than it did, and it was satisfying to see Hermione make him pay for it. I also loved (and sympathize with) his reaction to the capuccino.

Things seemed to be going quite well until she suddenly starts tossing some of my least favorite of the popular fandom theories in there.

The Snape material removes much of the ambiguity about the character, but how the Snape is good aspect functions in the book is very much how I expected Snape's assistance of Harry would inevitably be in this book. Rowling makes it quite clear that he is oh-so-very-good. His hatred of Harry is perhaps given a more tragic spin, but did the character need much more? The sequence in which his slate is wiped clean is the weakest part of the book, which I'm sure will please toe "Snape is Good" people, but I think that the character deserved better than that. He has ever been a difficult character, and tying up all the loose ends neatly felt rather like a cop-out to me (Incidentally, if "Snape's Worst Memory" is not the torture that he suffered at James' hand but because he called Lily a Mudblood, and that's what he didn't want Harry to see it - i.e. it was part olf this sequence Dumbledore doesn't want Harry to see - then its subtraction from the Order of the Phoenix movie might be a bit difficult to get around in the eventual movie adaptation).

Then there's the Harry is a Horcrux theory. I hated this one because the reasoning behind it always seemed a little loopy. The explanation that Voldemort's soul was splintered during the Killing Curse's rebound because it was already so mutilated and unstable already is the best we're going to get on that score, I guess. However, the methods by which Dumbledore pointed Harry in certain directions if this was the case are sound, and it does fit with how Voldemort does not always consider the full repercussions of his lust for immortality. Actually, I have to admit that by this point in the story, the momentum from the rest of the book made it bother me a lot less than I thought it would, and I think that the Battle of Hogwarts was a pretty satisfying climax, although I do have to admit that I was quite shocked at the fates of many of the tertiary characters.

I'll have more to say later, I'm sure... but ultimately those are my major caveats. The deaths were... rough but fair.
Tags: cinema, reviews
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