Sunday, November 27, 2005

Them Crazy Geisha

It was not easy to write about Memoirs of a Geisha. I considered numerous angles and finally settled on one focused on the five principal geisha. I could have just as easily taken the standard review route --you know the one; minor background on the production. plot summary. performance notes. overall impression/conclusion. I could have also gone the pure Oscar-minded route since it's the type of film that exists primarily to be considered for them. I also considered focusing on the absolute ickiness of the romantic relationship upon which the film's entire adult plot hinges. Let's hope little kids everywhere aren't falling instantly in love with strangers who happen to offer them candy. Blech. And ewwwww. We're supposed to want to route for this?

My Review

I always refrain from reading reviews or notes until I've finished mine (if I plan to write one that is) but now that I have here are some other people's notes that I found worth reading so click away:

"It’s like watching Asian actors playing white people playing Asian characters." -Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine @ Cinemarati
"Marshall seems to confuse beauty with art." -Emmanuel Levy
"Everyone, say it together now: or-i-en-tal fan-ta-sy!" -Lylee's Blogspot.

There will be many positive words as well for this film during the holiday season from major sources rest assured. Prestigious and beautiful (I'm certainly not arguing that it's not BEAUTIFUL) literary adaptations always get a healthy share of positive reviews.

17 comments:

adam k. said...

I just wrote about Geisha in my new blog. But I haven't seen it yet, so I couldn't comment on its actual quality. But one review had an interesting Color Purple comparison that I found noteworthy at least for awards purposes.

This sophomore effort by Rob Marshall is sounding a lot like Mendes' sophomore effort Road To Perdition. Pretty cinematography and pretentious dialogue does not a great film make. Sigh.

adam k. said...

Nice review, by the way.

"Bitch-on-wheels" is a keeper. I will be using that phrase myself in the future.

styln said...

Thanks for the rather in-depth and insightful review. I must admit that I was fascinated by the movie trailer and was intersted enough to want to see this film.

Per your review, I'll most likely wait for the DVD version.

adam k. said...

I'll probably see it with my mother so I won't have to pay money. And then she'll love it and I'll say "but it was bad" and she'll say "why?" and I'll say "nevermind."

This is what happened after we saw Phantom of the Opera together. Sigh.

Kris said...

Reducing it to a "catfight" made it clear to me, Nat, that your "review" was the least thought out bit of commentary you've ever put forth on a film.

And your defense of a separately made claim that "Li is Zellweger" is entirely unjustifiable. One character actually has a depth to it (to the viewer not too lazy to see it), the other doesn't, and Li's performance is much more than stomping around and screaming "look at me!"

I made my points when I reviewed the film two weeks ago, so I won't go into it here. Regardless, it is disappoting to read this, indeed. I would expect a little more insight than this on your part.

adam k. said...

Well a lot of people though Renée's perf had depth, too. She did after all win the oscar for it.

I am not defending her, btw, just saying, depth is in the eye of the beholder. Even when it's not really there. Or something. Whatever.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I agree with Kris. I was really dissapointed by your review, not because I disagree, but because I just don't see the sense in it. People are going around saying that this production Americanizes Japanese culture, yet have never read the book it is based on. Maybe they've studied Japanese culture and that's where they can support their claim, but I highly doubt every reviewer of this movie has done so. Your comment on the "icky" romance, well, that's a Western point-of-view, and so is not understanding the motivations of the principal geisha in their alleged "catfights." I don't know, I'm not saying I'm a huge fan of the book or movie, but it seems like the movie wasn't Americanized ENOUGH for some people to get it.

NATHANIEL R said...

anonymous,

it may be an American notion to be disgusted by or not willing to root for a lifelong romance predicated on an adult giving a child candy ... but i'm ok with that. [just for the record I totally recognize that it was meant to be read as an act of kindness --it is still a weird framing to ask American audiences to get behind given aforementioned immediate recognition of the phrase "strangers with candy"]

Just because something is Japanese or American or Egyptian or Norwegian or whatever doesn't give it any inherent worth or lack thereof. I'm just saying this is OBVIOUSLY targeted at Americans so I found that plot point to be strange in its emphasis.

i can't invest my heart in this type of relationship, if you can than you'll certainly enjoy the movie more than I.

kris,
i have loved gong li for like 12 years. So I am certainly willing to see depth in any portrayal she gives but i found this lacking in inspiration -though I certainly enjoyed her performance more than Renee Zellweger's (which was just over the top plain and simple) -I thought David Poland's reading of that was smart and would go along way towards explaining why she's receiving so much praise. I thought Yeoh was stronger in the film but her role is much less juicy.

and as for the catfight? walks like a duck talks like a duck... is a duck. I love a good catfight on film. That doesn't make the movie a bad one... it just didn't have much to say

I "got" the movie. It just didn't have a lot to give. Perhaps the book is different (people seem passionately invested in the book) but i wasn't reviewing the book.

Kamikaze Camel said...

hmmm... that's all I have to say about the review. That and I'm disappointed you didn't like it.

I'll still be seeing it though. Although I'm not as excited as I thought I would be earlier this year. Telling sign?

-Glenn

Kris said...

I still see this review as lazy criticism (not typical from you), but I can respect your feeling that the film was thin. That point could have been much stronger on your part.

Anonymous said...

Nat, I just noticed that your review of Memoirs showed up on Rotten Tomatoes.. This is I believe the first time i've noticed this. Is this a new development or have I just been out of the loop? Are you insanely proud? will this corrupt your incorruptable individuality towards film?

NATHANIEL R said...

no. I'm on there whenever i remember to get on there (you have to do it yourself) --i'm just not usually on there in the only one page status where you'd actually notice ;)

someone kind said...

Hmm... Wonder why the continued praise of the aesthetic work on MoaG followed by complaints of its hollowness and unimportance doesn't seem to detract from the opinion that this is one of our oscar frontrunners...

Liked the review btw.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone in their right Western frame of mind could invest their heart in that type of relationship, but what I'm willing to do is suspend belief that there is a fictional character who might. You know, the way I allow my mind to accept that street gangs sing-and-dance, or that there's a breakthrough medical process that deletes painful memories, or that Nicole Kidman is indeed a French courtesan when she is actually Australian.

The film being about Japanese culture isn't enough to grant it worth, but psychologically, the love plot holds up. Troubled little girl recieves only kindness from a handsome man; as he walks off, she is surrounded by women known as geisha, so she then realizes that becoming one of these women might afford her the happiness she just experienced. That's psychology 101.

Marshall mistakes art for beauty? Maybe my working knowledge of Japanese history/culture in innacurate, but in the world of geisha, art is beauty.

I'm not saying I love the movie. In fact, I can think of almost 10 pictures I prefer, but in terms of Hollywood epics-mean-to-win-Oscars, I don't think it's anymore hokey that the others. It's pretty thin, as aforementioned, but I don't see any heavy criticism of that fact.

I certainly wouldn't rank it on the level with complete Oscar bores like Finding Neverland. As you have stated, everything in terms of production values is wonderful, so I was thinking maybe a C+, "Redeeming qualities" was warranted. Enough said.

NATHANIEL R said...

I had been waffling on a C / C- and it may go back to C. I just saw it. I like to let things settle before grading but I was excited to write about it. It is better than Finding Neverland, yes.

It's definitely C range. The minus is for the acting. I just can't get behind the awkwardness. These are not comfortable performances. Very stilted. And the dialogue doesn't help.

but of the films competing this year (so far) it's my least favorite. I even liked Cinderella Man more --even though it's also of that boring "please give me Oscars or you will negate my entire reason for existence!" brand of movies. It's not half as ambitious as Geisha but it hits its marks with more precision...and i'll take the chemistry of Crowe & Giamatti over any relationship in Geisha.

OHMYGOD. Geisha is making me crazy. I am even complimenting a Ron Howard film. Why am I doing this. I'm losing it.
ARRRRRrrggggGHHHHhhhhhH.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a second viewing is in order? LOL.

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