Yesterday, on dvd, whilst snowed in:
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Two Towers (extended edition)
X2: X-Men United
Today, in the theater:
The Last Samurai
Maybe spoilerish. I don't know that there are any real surprises in the plot, the trailers basically give you the whole story, so I don't know what I could spoil.
Tom Cruise plays a drunk, washed up army captain (Nathan Algren) who served under Custer and killed lots of Native Americans, many of whom were civilians - women, children, etc. He goes to Japan to earn some money training the Japanese imperial army in the art of "modern" warfare, so they can put down a samurai rebellion and usher in a new modern age for Japan. Simple enough.
Except, of course, it's not. They get ordered into the field before they're ready, they are slaughtered, he's captured, and over the next few months spends his time living among the samurai "rebels" and comes to fall in love with their ways, and the wife of one of the samurai he killed out on the field. He ends up fighting for them, and everyone dies except for him - and he manages to change the entire course of history in Japan. Duh. He's a white guy in Japan, of course he would.
The movie was pretty good, though, but it was annoying at times. It spent a little too much time glorifying the feudal Japanese way of life, which while it certainly has some very interesting aspects and can be quite beautiful at times, can also be pretty fucked up. Samurai weren't all noble, honorable, spiritual men; they were supposed to be, but they often fell short. In this movie, every one of them is, to a man. The people pushing for modernization are all portrayed as bad - soulless, money-grubbing bastards. Again, a little oversimplified, huh? The entire conflict is oversimplified and made a little too trite and convenient. It'd have been nice if there were worthwhile people on both sides of the conflict, but they really made it painfully one-sided. It also hints at some of the extremes the Japanese could go to back then (they go to different extremes nowadays) but doesn't really get into it much. Believing in honor over life can make for some very screwy decisions, and they mostly ignored all of that.
It was an enjoyable movie, though, and there were some good things. For one, Cruise never consummates his relationship with the widow of the samurai he killed - at one point, towards the very end, they kiss briefly, but they never play it up. There's some resentment and anger at first, some frustration, which slowly grows into mutual respect and attraction, but they never force it to go anywhere. I liked that. The acting and writing tended to be decent, and the cinematography pretty good as well, which was nice. None of it hits the levels that Kurosawa got to on a regular basis, but it was all pretty good. I think Tom Cruise can be a very good actor in the right role, and this is one that he took on pretty well. I also hate him for looking handsome and young even at the age of 41. (Admittedly, 41's not that old, but still. And I know people will disagree with me on both counts, which is fine, but I think while it's become "cool" to say he's not handsome or talented, I think if you put that aside, it's hard to deny he's got some talent or good looks. I've never been cool anyways, so it's ok for me to admit that. I think he's likely insane, being a Scientologist, but that's another story.)
So anyways. Overall - good. Recommended. Not perfect by far, but worth it. (A little long, though, at around 2.5 hours! I suppose this is a good thing, overall - movies seem to be longer on average now than they were 10 or 15 years ago, but sometimes I think they're probably longer than they need to be.)