Two Film Catchup

April 24, 2018    

Queen Of The Desert

Ran across Queen of the Desert the other night. Looked somewhat interesting - then I read that it’s directed and written by Werner Herzog. OK, ready for crazy, but its nowhere to be found. For those who’ve seen the Herzog filmography - Aguirre, Kaspar Hauser, Stroszek, Woyzeck, Fitzcarraldo, etc - you expect a certain level of strained reality, deep angst, and inner turmoil. Here, the Queen is Gertrude Bell, an early 20th-century free-spirited English woman who turns to travels and archaeology in the middle east. The film is pretty conventional but somewhat uninspired. The oddest part is that the historical gimmick about Bell is that she is supposed to have superior insights into the people and politics of pre-modern Arabia and may have been a key player in setting down the current set of nation-states and their inherent tensions (to put it mildly).

All in all a fine premise but Herzog just scratches the surface of this potential political intrigue. Nicole Kidman does a great job of keeping you interested in what is just a vague outline. And the conventionally pretty cinematography (Peter Zeitlinger) and score (Klaus Badelt) keep the mood serene.

A perennial problem for such films: The actual work involved in being a smart person, doing archaeology, and writing research reports and translations, etc, is of course, quite boring. When the main character in your script is such a person, I grant that effectively showing this work ethic is rarely achieved. But please do show us something more than the odd quip or someone staring out at the horizon. The ending here, where Bell effectively annoints the new Kinds of Iran and Jordan, is setup and over much too quickly.

Ready Player One

Steven Spielberg’s latest is just so-so. I gather there’s a book that’s better but I never heard of it before this. The boy fighting corporate overlords for some McGuffin reason is a pretty tired trope and there’s nothing here that’s original. It’s supposed to be great fun to have myriad ’80s-‘90s pop, film, and video game references, but they go by so quickly as to be irrelevent. The one standout is a longish sequence taking place in the Overlook Hotel of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining - that resonated with me quite a bit. Nice quirky performance by Spielberg’s new best friend Mark Rylance as the aspergic ur-hacker of the global video game, and Ben Mendelsohn does the required evil-boss scenery chewing.