Friday, January 06, 2006

Review -- Double Feature

Memoirs of a Geisha is the fictional story of a geisha in 1930s/40s Japan. Chiyo (played by the delightful Suzuka Ohgo) and her sister are sold by their struggling father and are quickly separated from each other. Chiyo finds herself trying to make her way into becoming a geisha.

It's tough to see a movie based on such a wonderful book. The story is so rich and complex and mysterious, it seems difficult to figure out how one would narrow down the focus and translate the story into film. Visually, the movie is stunning. The costumes are beautiful, and the scenery serene. Li Gong as Hatsumomo manages to be both spiteful and yet sometimes sympathetic, and Ziyi Zhang as Sayuri is all-at-once beautiful, elegant, sad, and strong. I think the film is worth seeing in the theater, if for no other reason than to experience the richness of the cinematography. But at times, the film overall fell flat. The pacing seemed too slow at times, and a bit rushed at others, and I felt that some valuable elements of the book were left out. Of course, this seems inevitable when adapting a novel into film, but I found myself a bit disappointed.

I give it three stars.

Capote takes us on the journey of American writer, Truman Capote, from New York City to rural Kansas mid-century, as he researches the story of the brutal slaying of the Clutter family for what will eventually turn into his masterpiece: In Cold Blood.

Okay, we all know that I love, love, love Truman Capote and I love, love, love Phillip Seymour Hoffman. So perhaps I'm a bit biased when I say: Run, don't walk, to see this movie. It isn't the greatest movie of all time, but Hoffman's performance utterly blew me away; he entirely transforms himself into the role with intricate details. In a role that could have easily slid into one-dimensional charicature (for Capote was on the surface, after all, an over-the-top character!) Hoffman manages to balance flamboyance with genuine emotion; the motivation behind his actions, as he becomes obsessed with the murders, is complex and not easy to pinpoint. True, we know Capote is driven by the quest for fame; true, we know he isn't upfront with necessary information to Perry; but to simply label Capote a narcissist doesn't seem complete. Most intriguing is the relationship -- and the chemistry -- between Capote and murderer, Perry Smith (played by Clifton Collins, Jr). Perry's character is the driving force of Capote's book, and the relationship between writer and soon-to-be character is the driving force of the movie.

The contrasting settings of the energy of the New York City literary elite and rural Kansas is beautiful to see; the up-close, smoky shots of Capote and his admirers at various bars and parties immediately following/preceding the vast, dark landscape of the midwest creates a distinct mood to the film and a clearer image of Capote's persona.

I hope people go and see this film. Doubtful that it will make it to many places in the country, but it is worth seeing on many levels. I give it 4 1/2 stars!!!!!


Blogger Dinah said...

Memoirs of a Geisha is one of my favorite books. I have not seen the movie yet but hopefully I will see it soon.

9:40 AM  
Blogger TessaJ said...

I loved the book -- which makes it hard to review (I wonder how a person would see the movie who hadn't read the book). But it IS worth seeing because it's so beautiful. Definitely worth it. And now Ziyi Zhang is up for both a Golden Globe and a SAG award, which makes me happy for her and the film.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Vanessa said...

I completely agree with your review of Memoirs of a Geisha, worth seeing for the costumes and scenery more than the story. Capote is on my list of films to see, love love love Truman.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Miss V said...

I'm with you on both reviews. I've told so many people to see Capote. I hope PSH wins the Golden Globe.

I'm still waaaaiting for Matchpoint to come to Seattle...perhaps next week.

12:51 PM  
Blogger TessaJ said...

miss v -- I haven't seen Brokeback Mountain yet (that's Monday's movie). I've heard good things about Ledger's performance, but I can't imagine it achieving what Hoffman has achieved.

Match Point is tomorrow or sometime next week; will let you know!

1:00 PM  

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