Just watched two movies, both of which were gripping in their different ways.
Alatriste is the most expensive Spanish movie ever made, and you can see the money up there on the screen. Based on the Alatriste sequence of novels by Arturo Perez Reverte, the movie follows the life of Diego Alatriste, soldier of fortune in the turbulent period between 1620 and 1645 when Spain was fighting in Flanders and then France.
The big draw is that Viggo Mortenson, formerly known as Aragorn, son of Arathorn, plays Alatriste, supported by various interesting but little known Spanish actors. The drawback to the movie is that it crams the events of seven novels into a little over two hours. This means that the film is necessarily episodic and although primary threads are followed through and tied up, the knots can be a little cursory and superficial.
The film is visually stunning: it recreates moments from Spanish art, primarily using Velazquez as a source, so you see the court, including Las Meninas, striding about, the surrender at Breda rendered into tableau, a hunting scene featuring Felipe IV which could be a tapestry and so on - the colours, the costumes, the architecture make this a visual feast of a film. But (ah there's always a but) film conventions don't quite live up to the subtlety and complexity of the literary conventions that Perez Reverte uses and breaks. The novels are swashbuckling but melancholy, which works well on the page but somehow doesn't on the screen. The ironies and dramas of an authentic life which Perez Reverte creates don't quite blend with the romantic images depicted on screen, especially when juxtaposed with the extreme realism of the battle scenes which are exceptionally gruesome (the first time I've ever really understood how much effort goes into stabbing someone to death). There's a struggle in the film between the desire to achieve verismo and the truth on which Velazquez touches and giving way to the slash and swash of the image we have of men in big boots and bigger hats challenging each other to duels. That said, this is a movie absolutely worth seeing.
And today's movie was HP and the Order of the Phoenix, which was non-stop engagement. Again, a fully-realised world, although I do find the clothes that the Hogwarts students wear when in mufti implausibly unfashionable and increasingly curious (weird knits and a lot of tank tops), but in this movie, we saw the students in action - the scenes where Harry teaches defence against the dark arts are delightful - and they do well. I'm not going to spoil any further, but this is my favourite Potter film so far, and Imelda Staunton demonstrated once again her incredible range and versatility. Daniel Radcliffe also begins to come into his own - in fact all the Hogwarts regulars were on very fine form, perhaps because David Yates really worked on them - I didn't feel there were any missteps.
So what are you waiting for - get out there and rent Alatriste on DVD and get yourself down to the cinema for a dose of Phoenix.