Illuminating the Issues

WARNING! SPOILERS for all three films!


The Secret of Kells – I knew pretty much nothing about this 2009 French animated film. It takes place at a monastery in ninth century Ireland, where a curious boy named Brendan lives with his strict uncle, the abbot. Brother Aidan, a man known for illuminating manuscripts, comes to the abbey to work on the titular book, a collection of the Gospels. Brendan becomes fascinated with Aiden’s work and helps him out, to his uncle’s disapproval. He also explores the nearby woods and befriends a fairy named Aisling, who helps him to defeat the ancient god Crom Cruach in order to take his eyeglass. And yes, that’s probably the god Conan the Barbarian swears by, or at least his namesake. The animation style is interesting, very much modeled on manuscripts of the era, fairly minimal and a bit strange when it comes to shapes, but also colorful and distinctive.

There are some surreal bits, like the scene of Crom devouring himself.

Aisling’s name means “dream,” so not surprisingly, they’re usually the bits with her in them.

They’re not merely dreams, though, as they affect the more realistic parts of the story. The actual Book of Kells is now kept at Trinity College in Dublin.


Chinatown – You know, I think the only Roman Polanski films I’ve seen were this and Rosemary’s Baby, and both involve rape. They both present the rape as a bad thing, of course, but it’s disturbing in light of what we know about the guy. It’s about a detective named Jake Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, who takes a case to find out if Hollis Mulwray, chief engineer at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, is having an affair. He soon realizes he’s been set up, but also that there’s a much bigger scandal going on here, with Mulwray being murdered by his former partner because of his opposition to a project to dry up nearby land and buy it for cheap. It’s loosely based on real events, and Mulwray’s name comes from William Mulholland, who designed the aqueducts that brought water to LA. I only know who he was because Frank Black mentioned him in two songs, “Olé Mulholland” and “The St. Francis Dam Disaster.” As it’s a film noir tribute, Jake constantly discovers more wrinkles to the situation, is repeatedly lied to and threatened when people think he’s getting too close, and has sex with Mrs. Mulwray for some reason. He eventually cracks the case, but the guy who masterminded the whole thing and raped and impregnated his daughter is able to get off scot-free because he’s rich and powerful. An interesting side note is that a plot developed for a potential sequel involving automobile manufacturers buying up streetcars to eliminate them, also based on true events, eventually became the story of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.


Punch-Drunk Love – Another Paul Thomas Anderson film, this one stars Adam Sandler in a fairly straight role as Barry Egan, an awkward guy who runs a plumbing supply company, although he still has anger problems. That’s largely because of his seven sisters who boss him around and pry into his life. Like other Anderson movies, it meanders a bit, switching between Barry’s budding relationship with his sister’s co-worker, his being scammed by a phone sex line, and his trying to take advantage of a deal to get frequent flyer miles by buying Healthy Choice products.

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1 Response to Illuminating the Issues

  1. rocketdave says:

    I’ve seen a few more Polanski movies than you and sexual assault played a part in all of them to one extent or another, or at least the ones that I can remember. Other than the titles you mentioned, it’s a dominant theme in Death and the Maiden as well as Repulsion. Death and the Maiden is all about a woman (Sigourney Weaver) seeking revenge against her rapist. In Repulsion, the main character (Catherine Deneuve) fends off an attempted rape, not to mention a suitor who doesn’t respect her boundaries, plus it’s implied that her psychological issues stem from childhood abuse. The character Polanski plays in The Fearless Vampire Killers is aggressively chased by a lustful gay vampire. Nothing happens, but I found that part disturbing, even though the movie is meant to be a comedy. Okay, I wouldn’t necessarily say that Johnny Depp is raped in The Ninth Gate, but there is a sex scene in that film where I got the impression that it wasn’t 100% consensual on his part.

    You probably know this already, but Nicholson directed a sequel to Chinatown called The Two Jakes. While it’s not as revered as Chinatown, I personally think it’s an underrated film. If nothing else, it has the benefit of being slightly less depressing.

    I was a little confused when you referred to The Secret of Kells as a French movie since I assumed it was Irish, but then I looked it up and you were correct, at least partially. Although Cartoon Saloon is an Irish animation company, all their movies have been international co-productions. I’ve only seen two of their films, Kells and Song of the Sea, but I really liked both and can’t help feeling that it’s criminal that they haven’t won an Oscar so far. Unfortunately, it’s been definitively proven that Academy voters don’t take the Best Animated Feature category seriously and will just blindly pick whatever Pixar/Disney came out with that year and/or whatever movie their kids liked best. In an article at Cartoon Brew, one voter was quoted erroneously referring to Song of the Sea and Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya as “Chinese f***in’ things that nobody ever freakin’ saw,” and was just one of numerous voters who admitted to not even watching the nominated films. It seems increasingly fashionable to bash the Academy Awards, and after reading that article, I can agree that it’s totally warranted, at least as far as animation enthusiasts are concerned.

    When I first saw Punch Drunk Love, I was a little underwhelmed. It felt so different from what I’d come to expect from Paul Thomas Anderson after Boogie Nights and Magnolia. However, the movie has grown on me tremendously since then. It’s a tad embarrassing to say this, but Barry Egan is one of the few fictional characters to whom I can relate. Also, Mary Lynn Rajskub’s character reminds me of my sister, which is a little ironic since I remember my sister once expressing a dislike of Rajskub when we were watching Mr. Show together.

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