25 December 2010

Everyone Else / Alle Anderen (Maren Ade, 2009, Germany)

Alle Anderen is about a youngish German couple on vacation in Sardinia. He's an architect just starting out. His backside is strong but his hair is beginning to thin. She's a publicist for a band nobody has ever heard of. The relationship is one of those where the partners are attached to each other despite being fundamentally incompatible. If you've ever been in a relationship like this you know that although there is a small chance of making this sort of relationship work, the pair must necessarily act out all kinds of drama that stems from the uncertainty produced by such an unfortuitous pairing. This movie definitely knows what it's talking about and that's part of why it's hard to watch. The way the characters behave dysfunctionally even when they must know they're not making things better feels disarmingly authentic. I guess what I felt was lacking in this movie was anything to pull you in other than the familiarity of the dysfunction. I'm not sure the film is beautiful enough to hold its cruelty, although I find it growing on me as it has time to settle. C+

Sweetgrass (Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, 2010)

Sweetgrass is a documentary about a sheep ranch in Montana. From the 19th century until about 2003, if I'm remembering correctly, ranchers would take their livestock to graze in the mountains during the summer. The film starts off with the most enchanting, beguiling, and sometimes gently disturbing series of episodes in which the sheep are the central characters. The people almost seem like machines and there's something uncannily reminiscent of a Holocaust film in some way. I thought that might be me reading something into it because I just spent a semester contemplating the Holocaust but my boyfriend said he was thinking the same thing. As the film progresses the perspective gradually shifts to the men of the ranch. This is done pretty craftily but I have to say that the film kind of lost me by the time this shift was complete. Part of me this morning, the morning after, wonders if it might have hit kind of close to home since those are the sort of unintelligible, emotionally immature salt of the earth types that to some extent populated my early years. I kind of wish the filmmakers had included less footage of the guy's lunatic rampages. I think it crosses the boundary from pathos to pathetic and that's unfortunate because if the characters didn't devolve into such infantile wretches there might have been more weight to the yearning towards the comfort of modernity that seemed to propel their discontent. I mean, I guess it's sort of a real life version of that Marilyn Monroe film, The Misfits inasmuch as it's about people who have been passed by by the world's progress. It's really sad in this case because what's modern is likely much more barbaric than the primitive. I'm happy this wasn't any sort of dumbed down IMAX nonsense like March of the Penguins or something but I guess I was hoping for something more. Or less. C+

24 December 2010

Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell, 2010)

Talk about a tough sell. I was initially thrilled about Rabbit Hole because I love John Cameron Mitchell's two previous films, Shortbus and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Then I heard about the subject matter and got nervous. It could have gone terribly wrong but I think it went mostly right.

I've seen this film dismissed as "grief porn." My first problem with this is that it implies that movies about grief are as hollow, perverse, and pandering as "torture porn" or actual pornography and this is not something I think is even true in bad movies about grief. Certainly there is an element in exploitation in many of the movies about grief that have popped up in recent years, particularly since In the Bedroom, and that this charge might even be leveled against a pretty good film like Ordinary People. Whatever. I personally feel that all but the cheapest of these films are valuable because they provide the purifying vicarious experience that the word "catharsis" was pretty much born to represent. I also feel though that this isn't one of the cheaper films so the term is empty regardless.

I found the picture of grief presented in this film honest enough. The performances are great. Sometimes Diane Wiest reminded me of Brenda Blethyn's somewhat campy turn in Lovely & Amazing but I liked that thing so it worked for me. Anyway, I also found her performance reminiscent of the role(s) she played in Synecdoche, NY. I guess there's something about this movie that felt like a revision of Revolutionary Road but I think it's less crass than that film. The performances are great. Everybody knows that by now. What I loved about this movie was how gently it evoked an authentic experience of grief. I don't agree with critics who have suggested that this film offers no light to the viewer. I kind of feel that anyone who feels that way has never really experienced that sort of loss. I will say that some of the plotting felt a little off, particularly some of the details of the story involving Sandra Oh. B+/A-

Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich , 2010)

Toy Story 3 is one of those movies about which I feel so at odds with the prevailing opinion about (even among my friends) that I start to psychoanalyze myself as a result. I thought this movie was at least as dull as the others. I found a couple of the toys cute and I liked the girl and thought the movie would have been more interesting if she had been closer to the center of it. I thought the ending was unforgivable schmaltz and I thought the plotting seemed almost color-by-numbers. I guess one thing that's always bothered me about this franchise is its aggressive lowbrow Americana. It's nostalgia and kitsch and the exultation of empty consumerism and smug bourgeois mediocrity. Whenever people talk about these movies I always think to myself, "Is this really how you want to program your children?" Fortunately, I've grown polite in my old age and I've learned to use my alienation as a springboard to the comforts of endless introspection.
As my best friend shockingly took to the defense of this film, I turned toward introspection. It occurred to me that I didn't care for any of these toys as a child. I got to thinking about how I didn't have many toys as a child, how we grew up in the middle of nowhere and how playtime meant going out and making believe in fields and forests or communing with horses, barn cats, and other animal life. This led me to my troubled childhood and something I've realized at least since high school, which is that I have always felt at odds with the physical realm. This is naturally a problem but although a film like Toy Story 3 calls a number of related issues to mind, I'm pretty sure I don't want any remedy nor any solution to which the appreciation of empty crap like this is part. D+

PS: Give me a hollow Care Bears redux over this quatsch any day. :-*

Coming Back to the Five and Dime and a Carey Mulligan Double Feature

I've been so overwhelmed with being back in school that I have hardly had time to watch movies, let alone keep up with this journal. I'm going to try to fill in some of the gaps over the next couple of weeks, with all due respect to any friends who may have enjoyed the sudden decrease of activity on Google Buzz that coincided with my Rodney Dangerfield back to school moment. For my second post today I present a double feature that illustrates that it takes more than a delightful turn by Carey Mulligan to rescue a weak script.

I can't remember why but I expected more than this from Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. I feel like I heard an interview with Oliver Stone talking about Gordon Gekko and about how his new movie was going after Wall Street. The final product is far too silly and poorly written to worthy of its subject matter. Not even a charming performance from Carey Mulligan can redeem this movie. Shia Leboeuf is serviceable here and could have seemed better if the material hadn't been so rotten. Michael Douglas, on the other hand, manages to be worse than the screenplay. His anachronistic hamming that might have served the original Wall Street (which I also dislike) render this 2010 film as absurd, particularly since he looks like a withered sack of reasons to take it easy on the cosmetic surgery. Maybe it isn't even just Michael Douglas who's doing his best attempt to portray an old man in 2008 who's thinks he's still a young man in 1988. I feel like the whole movie is dated. The cameo by Charlie Sheen didn't help things, let alone the cheap gag about the 1980's cellphone. It almost seemed like the movie was waiting for Molly Ringwald to show up and ask where's the beef. I haven't had the time or opportunity to watch Inside Job yet but I'm hoping that'll be the movie this should have been. D-

Never Let Me Go reminds me of Perfume in that it was a relatively faithful adaptation of a book that I found both dazzling and unsatisfying. It's not quite as faithful as Perfume of course, because otherwise the audience would have have sat there for half the film wondering where Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley were. Ishiguro has an amazing gift for conjuring life and sensitivity but I wasn't really convinced by his book and I was probably convinced even less by the film, despite an effective performance by Carey Mulligan. The movie certainly lacks much of the depth and texture that made the book so enthralling but it doesn't even attempt to answer the holes in the book. In fact, the weaknesses of the book are laid bare when Ishiguro's sensitive prose and thicket-like progression are stripped away. When you aren't as invested in the mind of the character, the willingness to suspend disbelief falters detrimentally in this film adaptation. They needed to have found a way to trim less from the book. I understand that the stars of the movie needed to be at its center but even a cheesy solution like telling the story of her childhood in a series of several flashbacks would probably have been more effective. Other than adding depth, this would have given the excellent supporting cast more screen time. Sally Hawkins, Charlotte Rampling, and Nathalie Richard were perfect for this movie but their characters were robbed of the gravity they possessed in the book such that their performances emerge as odd curiosities that leave the viewer wondering what Charlotte Rampling is doing in this movie anyway. I don't know, the film struck me as much too morbid, where the book was haunting. I felt like the book failed in not providing an adequate justification for itself and the movie didn't even attempt to address this. C

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg, 2010)

I've always found something compelling about Joan Rivers. Even before she looked like she might be Amanda Lepore's biological mother. It's clear that she's intelligent and funny even though much of her humor is unintelligent and unfunny. It's like she's this great star devoured by her insecurities and half defeated by her own bitterness. I felt like the scene where Melissa talks about how her mother unconsciously works to make people dislike her could be expanded to cover her career. I guess the trouble with her is that her humor isn't clever enough to make up for how hostile she is.

The movie is engaging but it doesn't really rise to the same level of, say, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which I confess to adore. She may certainly have opened a lot of doors for a lot of comediennes but I wish the film had paid tribute to other early comediennes like Rusty Warren or Fanny Brice or spent a moment talking about her relationship to other comediennes in the cannon. Of course, that would have turned this into an A&E special. I just felt like the scope was too narrow at times and it lacked the dramatic intensity and vulnerability that made the Tammy Faye piece so compelling. Even when I compare this to other recent profiles like the Jimmy Carter documentary or The September Issue, I'm just not sure it was as layered or ambitious by comparison. C+

15 December 2010

The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)

Instead of working on my finals and so forth I ended up reading best of the year stuff and The Social Network seemed like the favorite. I haven't seen many new movies since the spring and wasn't in a big rush to see this movie but it was all right. I feel like it's overrated but it's more effective than I expected it to be. I guess I got sucked into the plot but it didn't really make me think about much other than how awful most of the characters were. I guess that caused me to think more about my relationship to Facebook in particular and to the internet in general. The acting was good, I suppose, although Justin Timberlake's performance has been exaggeratedly praised. I thought the most interesting thing about his performance was that the most interesting thing about it was contemplating the changes in his face. I guess I hoped that he got all Marilyn Monroe and hired a deranged Russian acting coach to turn him into a legend but he seemed like the next Mark Wahlberg (or Ryan Phillippe?), at best. Not that that's necessarily something to scoff at.

I'm just not sure the story as it was told was the story that should have been told. It's interesting because Facebook plays such a central role in the lives of almost everybody I know but I guess it seemed like it was missing something. Whether it was context or depth or humanity I don't know.

I guess I liked the way Fincher handled the business with the privileged Winklevoss brothers. I guess that aspect of the movie might have been the most worthwhile for since it showed an aspect of our culture that is rarely acknowledged seriously (or at all) in popular media. One of my literature professors said that what she's noticed about American students compared to Europeans or Canadians is a tendency to focus on extracting a moral purpose or didactic intent from works. I guess for me that's what interesting, from a sociological or psychological standpoint. When I think about it, I suppose I appreciate that they depict more realistically what kind of assholes men are than you usually see. That's really a running theme here. Men are assholes and women are crazy. People in suits are just as bad as you thought they were. It's interesting though that the movie is book-ended by two of the three sympathetic characters in the movie: first the girl who dumps him (and of whom he's thinking in the final scene) and then the lawyer lady who kindly tells him how it is at the end. The only other character who seemed particularly sympathetic to me was the discarded best friend. I feel like I'm dancing around what was missing in this movie and I can't put my finger on it. C

28 November 2010

cricket cricket

I haven't updated this in forever. I went back to school this summer and I've had very little time for movies, let alone trying to keep a film journal.

The last movie I remember really liking was that old East German film Jakob, the Liar, which I justified watching since it was related to a class I'm taking.

A friend dragged me to the movies a couple of weeks ago to the new Woody Allen movie (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger). I thought it was all right but I was hoping for something fun like Scoop and it was just all right. Better than that one with Larry David though.

I also lived dangerously last weekend and caught the one of the last screenings of Margarethe von Trotta's Vision at the Music Box. I thought it was lovely and I liked the storytelling. I didn't really get the acting all the time though. As a German student, it was nice to hear some polished German.

I had sworn that I'd make another desperate move this weekend and see White Material but I didn't have the chance after all and here I am taking a break from my linguistics homework to think about what might have been ;)

12 July 2010

catching up...

I've been too slow to pick this thing up since my little road trip and my move decreased the time I spent online or watching movies. I'll probably hurriedly try to catch up with some of what I've watched in the past few months, just so I can continue to have a record of all that.

Last night I watched Storm, a German movie about a war crimes trial that played last year at the Chicago International Film Festival. I skipped it then because the reviews seemed rather tepid but I ended up enjoying it. It's basically about the how and why that all these unstable places like Bosnia are getting packed into the EU and what some of the costs are. I thought it was acted and produced well and as to the reviews that damned it for looking like a German made-for-TV movie, I'd say that German made-for-TV movies are often a lot better than what gets put into theaters. B+

Prior to that I had watched a 2007 German comedy called Mein Führer. It's basically about how Goebbels gets this Jewish actor out of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp so he can work as Hitler's acting coach. It's not quite as distasteful as it sounds but it didn't quite win me over either. It was all right. B-

I also watched this documentary called A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash. Unsurprisingly it was about the coming oil crash. Like most of these documentaries it suffers for being a sort of introduction for people who don't know anything. As such, I thought it did a pretty good job and I felt like I learned a few things as well. C

The Silent Star is an old East German science fiction movie about this international team of scientists who head out to Venus after a mysterious cylinder is found at what was believed to be a UFO crash site. The lady physicist is naturally responsible for making sure everyone eats and aside from looking at a microscope a few times mostly just chases people around with jars of liquid nutrition. The main point is that that Americans are like the Venusians who destroyed themselves while trying to take over the world. Hiroshima is invoked about a half dozen times. It was interesting as a Cold War artifact. C-

After years of trying, I finally made it through Godard's overrated film Breathless without falling asleep. I'm not sure I really get Godard. I'm never sure of how I feel about the morality of his films and I don't often find myself caring about his characters. C-

I'm not sure why I enjoyed Claude Chabrol's A Girl Cut in Two, since it seemed kind of empty. I like Ludivine Sagnier and she was good in this movie, though not particularly mesmerising. I watched it while I was starting to come down with something so I could have been a little scrambled in the brain but I feel like there is something there worth liking that rises above the lurid subject matter. And I'm sure there's something to the ending but I was too tired to piece it together. B

Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam is yet another Nick Broomfield documentary that manages to be fascinating even while it makes you uncomfortable because there's something incredibly slimy about Broomfield. Aside from the fact that he's kind of gross, I felt like the film lacked a certain scope. He's always leading you down the garden path and fixating on one thing and ignoring a few other things. Instead of focusing on Fleiss's personal life so much, I guess I'd have liked to know more about her prostitution ring and her trial. C

Mary and Max is sort like Muriel's Wedding crossed with 84 Charing Cross Road and blended with Wallace and Gromit. I really liked it, though the second half lost a little steam for me. It's another movie I skipped at the film festival last year because of negative reviews... B+

The first time I saw My Winnipeg I had accidentally gotten drunk at lunch and I ended up passing out during it. I was really sad. What I saw coincided really well with my drunken feverishness but my good friend Mark, with whom I saw it, said it was just all right or something. I finally got the chance to revisit it the other day when I noticed Netflix had added it to their instant viewing selection and I really loved it. I love that deranged blend of fantasy and fact. A

This isn't going so well. I think I have the flu or something.

16 May 2010

Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2009, Austria/France) A

I thought this movie lived up to the hype but it's another one of those movies that's almost universally inaccurately described. The movie takes place during a sort of pilgrimage to Lourdes where a group of people with all sorts of disabilities and afflictions go with some clergy folk and sundry volunteer candy striper sorts in search of miracles. The main character is relatively quiet woman with MS who wants to live a better life. Will she find her miracle? Does she? What happens and how does what happens affect all the people with her. There's so much going on in this film and I found myself relating to it not in my typical cerebral manner but instead in this sort of emotional and spiritual way. By the closing credits I truly felt like I wasn't in a movie theater at all but had been sitting in a church praying for some time without even knowing I had gradually teleported to a fantasy cathedral. Of course, the fact that I saw this film in the main theater at the Music Box may have played a large part in creating that sensation. Anyway, I'm not a religious person and I can't say I'm any less of an atheist now than I was three hours ago but I quite liked this film and will likely see it again some day. There was so much going on in that last scene. I was riveted to my seat until the last frame of the end credits... A

Can you believe it?

I feel like I haven't watched an entire movie in a month. Of course, I was on a road trip for two weeks and am about to move but this is completely blowing my mind. I think the only movie I've watched since my last review might have been This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated, which was interesting enough but which hardly blew my mind.

I'm supposed to go see Lourdes tonight. Let's cross our fingers.

EDIT- Upon further investigation I have discovered that I have watched a few other movies since the last one I reviewed here.

I revisited Deconstructing Harry, although I was super sleepy and didn't finish it.

I also watched most of The Happening with some of my boyfriend's friends while we were on vacation and it was beyond dreadful and possibly worth watching because of that.

I also watched Claire's Knee and I definitely liked quite a bit about it but I didn't get a chance to put my thoughts together about it (or review it) in time to say something about it before I went on vacation and now I've sent it back to Netflix...

24 April 2010

Even you, Andrew?

It's so sad to see a respectable critic like Andrew O'Hehir join the ranks of people who ought to know better but were duped by that awful Argentine film that won the best foreign film Oscar this year.

Read it and weep.

I've hardly watched any movies all month. I think I must be cleansing my palate after an overloaded winter of filmgazing obsession.

LMAO. I can't believe that I thought this was one of the three worst movies I saw last year (Worse than A Single Man even.) and a friend who saw it first said he was terrified I'd like it because it'd mean he could never respect me anymore and here's yet another critic frothing about how wonderful this film is.
Roger Ebert, I never!

16 April 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, 2009)

Really, I don't like the original by Abel Ferrara. I thought it was long on kitsch and short on enjoyment. I thought it was dumb as well. Herzog's film isn't really dumb but it is a kind of a huge mess. As with much that Herzog has done, I didn't know how to connect to this movie at all. The one Herzog movie I've really loved was Stroszek though and the interesting thing about this movie is the way I could see it as a dialogue between that movie and the Abel Ferrara Bad Lieutenant. I'm puzzled by why so many people liked this movie. I mean, I think I understand it adequately, I just maybe didn't see it like they saw it. I was more or less completely unengaged in this film. I found it dull and frustrating. Nonetheless, I'd watch it again probably because it seems like it might have slight potential to improve on second viewing. C-

15 April 2010

Tin Man (Nick Willing, 2007) / Comedy specials on Netflix Instant Viewing

Even if I haven't been going to the movies, I have been putting various things on via Netflix. The ones that I actually watched are the Tin Man miniseries from the Sci-Fi channel and two stand-up comedy specials I've watched in moments where I was desperate to be buoyed.

I think it'd be easy to dismiss Tin Man as something slight but it was really more imaginative and inventive and well put-together than I had expected, especially after having read Wicked and then endured the play. It's a sort of update of the Wizard of Oz story starring Zooey Deschanel as DG and Alan Cumming as a sort of strawman. I love that this movie isn't as literal minded as a lot of these sort of updates are. It went in directions I didn't quite expect, even if it's naturally a little predictable. I thought it might be based on a graphic novel or something but that doesn't seem to be the case. The acting is decent for the medium. The only other actor that was familiar to me was wicked long-lost sister Azkadellia (Kathleen Robertson), whom I recognized as Rhonda from Psycho Beach Party. B

I felt extremely ambivalent about Daniel Tosh's special Completely Serious. It certainly deals with some very important issues of today and it does so in an incredibly politically incorrect fashion and he's probably being tongue and cheek but I'm not sure I could really go with him. Even though I felt like there was parody and satire happening, I felt like the bite wasn't sharp enough and that he might just be too much of an asshole for my comfort. I liked the way he referred to his technique a lot. It was like taking apart a machine while you were running it. That's the sort of post-modern I kind of like, especially since I don't think people are aware enough of the machines that drive them. C-

Anjelah Johnson: That's How We Do is nicer than the other comedy special, even the politically incorrect bits don't feel malicious like Mr. Tosh's bit. She's likable and funny, mostly inoffensive. I didn't know her from MadTV. Not spectacular but it was a pleasant diversion. C
PS- This post feels half-assed. I got trouble in mind today. But I'm almost caught up now so that's all right.

We Live in Public (Ondi Timoner, 2008) / Afghan Star (Havana Marking, 2009)

It's spring in Chicago and it's been too gorgeous to sit inside all day watching movies, not to mention the apartment hunting that was going on, so I've hardly watched any movies in the past couple of weeks. I was sort of Jonesing yesterday so I stopped in at Specialty Video on the way home from a haircut and picked up a couple of documentaries: We Live in Public and Afghan Star, which I had been really excited about seeing in the theater last year but which I unfortunately missed when I had the chance. Neither of them lived up to my expectations but both were engaging and worth watching.

Josh Harris made a bazillion dollars in the 90s through some kind of internet something or other, though I'm not entirely clear on what he earned the money for exactly. I feel like the NPR piece on this film, We Live in Public, was much more coherent and informative than the actual movie, which I guess is it's main flaw. If you've ever seen a documentary about something artsy that happened in New York where everyone is blowing it out of proportion and talking like they held Jesus's hand the day he walked on water, this movie is kind of like that. Essentially, he spends his fortune on these over the top ventures that seemed part venture capitalism, part unethical psych experiment that could never be approved by any ethics panel, and part performance art. His most famous experiment is often credited as being the first reality show. He basically put a bunch of New York lunatics into a bunker and filled it with food, booze, and weapons and filmed it all. Whether this was for the internet or not or whether anyone watched it wasn't made too clear in the film. I think one of the problems with the film is that the filmmaker was a participant in the narrative and was too close to achieve any real critical distance. The movie needed to be more reflective, I think. It also seemed to make pronouncements about the role of technology in our lives that were as quaint and obsolete as Blue Man Group. C-

Afghan Star was the UK's submission to the Academy's foreign film panel this last year. It's a documentary about this American Idol-type television show in Afghanistan and its role in the culture. There is an element of this film that seems like what you'd expect from a movie about a talent contest and that part of the film isn't that great. (See Every Little Step or Pageant for a more successful take on that narrative.) The stronger part of the movie is about the culture and politics of what's been going on in Afghanistan for the past few decades. It doesn't necessarily go into the whole story like a special on the History Channel or something but it sort of gets the story across. I guess what I wanted though was a more in depth look at how Afghanistan got where it is now, even though that's not necessarily the mission of this film. It was good. I just wanted a little more from it. B-

10 April 2010

Harry Brown (Daniel Barber, 2009, UK)

Harry Brown is a sort of vigilante justice movie about some old men living in a council estate (England's answer to the projects) that is somewhat reminiscent of the milieu of the apartment building at the center of Gomorrah. There's rampant crime involving drugs, sex, and illegal weapons, in addition to robberies and senseless harassment that calls to mind A Clockwork Orange. It gets to a point where Michael Caine has enough and decides to clean house. Emily Morter shows up as the heir to Helen Mirren's lady detective from Prime Suspect and she kind of represents the moral voice in the movie, which naturally gets drowned out. It's dark and gritty and a spare in parts. I generally liked it but I wanted it to go a little deeper. Instead of saying, "Make the world a better plays and flush the scavs into a fiery sewer," I wanted there to be some suggestion or indication of the structural elements that bring us to where we are in the film... C+

07 April 2010

Reading Star Wars 2 to Filth

Instead of watching a movie last night I ended up watching this 90 minute diatribe on the awfulness of the second Star Wars prequel. I've never actually seen any of the prequels from start to finish but he makes a compelling case. I was skeptical going in but I found this strangely watchable and weirdly engaging, as it were.

Watch it here if you're interested.

06 April 2010

Battle in Seattle (Stuart Townsend, 2007)

As the title implies, this movie is about the protests surrounding the WTO summit in Seattle in 1999. Being as my politics and worldview might best be described as "Naomi Klein individual (minus a little get-up-and-go)" I was naturally very excited when this movie came out. It was greeted with mixed reviews though and I never got around to seeing it until last night because I've been so terrified of being disappointed. It's hard to be objective about a movie that so clearly and unambiguously reinforces one's own politics but I really liked this movie. I can think of a dozen criticisms people might bludgeon this film with and I wouldn't say that it succeeds as great art. I wouldn't even say it succeeds so well at persuasively and articulately defining its politics since it's probably preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, this choirboy says "Hallelujah!" I notice that the director is an Irish actor who went to the same acting school as Colin Farrell and was engaged to Charlize Theron with whom he starred in Trapped, which I vaguely remember liking. The acting in the movie is decent but not so great that you'd write home about it. A-

2 short films: Spike Jonze & Guy Maddin

Over the last few weeks the blogs in my Google Reader have been chattering about a few short films: Jonze's I'm Here, Maddin's The Little White Cloud That Cried, and Ramin Bahrani's Plastic Bag. I do most of my internetting at work (without audio) and it took me a while to get to the first two. The latter I still haven't gotten around to watching.

Given that the kind of person who has a film blog seems most often to the kind of person who likes both robots and Spike Jonze it seems natural that people have seemed to like I'm Here so much. My own circle of friends has given a range of responses that goes from "meh" to assorted vitriolic displays of scorn-fueled mirth. I'm more on the "meh" side of the spectrum. I thought the story was engaging enough but the metaphors and so forth aren't so great. I didn't really like philosophy driving the narrative. You can watch it on the official Absolut-sponsored page here but I found that page irritating and a little precious so I found it on this page which seems to be Hungary's answer to Youtube. C-

Guy Maddin basically brings us tranny art porn. If your math doesn't make that last sentence add up to "fabulous" you're clearly using the devil's calculus. It took me a couple of minutes before I was won over by The Little White Cloud That Cried but the important thing is that it won me over in a big way. Of course, I can't imagine most people enjoying it as much as I did because there are so many ways for people to criticize movies with hardcore sex involving pre-op transsexuals and a metaphysical edge. I liked it though. It's said to be a tribute to experimental filmmaker Jack Smith but I'm not very familiar with any of his work (which includes Flaming Creatures and Normal Love) so I can't even speak to any of that... Watch it here. If you dare. A-

01 April 2010

Copyright Criminals (Benjamin Franzen, 2009)

My boyfriend picked this up at our neighborhood independent video store yesterday and I ended up watching it tonight. It'll be late now. Sorry. :-) It's a short documentary about sampling that seems to have been taken up by PBS's Independent Lens. It's an interesting subject but I found the movie unfocused and superficial. They didn't talk to enough people and they didn't quite succeed at making a coherent piece out of the interviews they did get. I have to say, I found the show I heard about it on NPR more thorough and informative... I might say the length is what makes the movie necessarily choppy but the piece I heard on NPR was shorter than this film... C

Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, 1937)

Leo McCarey's film stars Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore as couple who have been married for fifty years and have lost their home to foreclosure. Their ungrateful children can't afford to take them on, it seems, and the two parents are split up, the wife staying with their son and his family in New York City, and the father staying with their horrible daughter and her husband three hundred miles away. It's a gorgeous film in some respects. There's something that reminded me of Frank Capra's 1930's films or even of John Ford's Grapes of Wrath. Those "regular people" movies from the time are so fascinating to me because they seem a little patronizing but simultaneously heartfelt. They're sentimental and hokey but manage to be profoundly affecting. Their notions of decency can range from seeming quaint to seeming almost revolutionary today. It was sort of disorienting though because you have this film that sort of feels like a Yasujiro Ozu movie tucked inside one of those '30s melodramas that almost seem to function like therapy for Americans who were exhausted from the preceding twenty-five years. I kept feeling this disconnect like my brain kept wanting to convert it to an Ozu film or even Koreeda. At the end there's this great sequence in the railway station that has called to my mind the grace and the emotional quality of moments in David Lean's Brief Encounter. I thought about rating this film with a lower score because of some of the hokiness but it had been a while since a movie made me cry and there's something timeless about the story and ache-inducingly beautiful about the trajectory. A

30 March 2010

Brothers (Jim Sheridan, 2009)

Tobey Maguire goes off to war in Afghanistan leaving behind his wife Natalie Portman and their two daughters. He's reported dead. Cliche ex-con brother Jake Gyllenhaal picks up the slack and he ends up kissing Natalie Portman on the lips. Tobey Maguire isn't dead though. That's not really a spoiler so if you're reading this just chill out, okay? Anyway, it's overblown and half-baked. The writing is terrible. The acting seems bad as well. I'm willing to blame the writer and the director but maybe these people are all hacks. I usually like Natalie Portman though and I expected better from Jim Sheridan. I don't know what the hell is wrong with "legitimate" film critics since they're always gushing about crap like this. Puke. I watched this with four friends the other night and it was a lot of laughing at it and looking at each other like, "What the hell is wrong with these people?" D

The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner / Светът е голям и спасение дебне отвсякъде (Stefan Komandarev, 2008, Bulgaria)

The story begins with a car accident in Germany. Sashko, a beautiful and sexy man in his late twenties or so, survives the accident but loses his memory. His grandfather, who hasn't seen him since his parents fled Bulgaria with him when he was a child, comes to Germany to try to help him recuperate. They end up riding to Bulgaria on a tandem bicycle and their trip is intercut with flashbacks that tell some of the story of their emigration. The film is sentimental and slight and that's probably why it's so popular. I'm sure it's big with the Geritol set. Also, I didn't understand why they never saw each other after the fall of the Iron Curtain; that's one thing that didn't make any sense to me. C

Gordos (Daniel Sánchez-Arévalo, 2009, Spain)

Gordos is a sort of black comedy about a group of people partaking in a sort of weight loss seminar. It's also about the people in their lives. I really liked it. It's funny. It's touching. It gets at some true things about the various long term relationships in our lives. The guy leading the seminar is the dreamy husband of a pregnant gym teacher. There's a guy who deals with his guilt by encouraging everyone else around him to eat up. It's also about his wife and their children and the issues in the family. The daughter is a student of the therapist's wife. Then there's the religious lady with her deranged devout boyfriend who wants to keep her fat. The high strung business lady in an LTR rut. The big gay spokesman for a weight loss program who's losing everything because he can't stop putting on weight. I thought the dynamics in the relationships were relatively true to life. It seemed like there were moments they could have done easy things like judge the religious people for example, but the movie is mostly unjudgmental. The audience seemed to like it quite a bit and I have to say I really enjoyed it. It tells some things I haven't seen in a movie before, even if parts of it are on the conventional side. B+

29 March 2010

Around a Small Mountain / 36 vues du pic Saint-Loup (Jacques Rivette, 2009, France)

When people talk about quirky French movies and roll their eyes or shake their heads or screw up their faces they're talking about movies like this. It's an essentially pointless, empty, quirky, romp around a mountain with a little circus that seems kind of lame and run down and surprisingly intimate for a production that has such a caravan... A woman breaks down on a mountain road. A mysterious businessman in a sports car stops and silently fixes her car in like three seconds. Then all this boring stuff happens where he insinuates himself into the circus community, which seems to be about four people, and tries to fix all the issues. It was dull. I dozed off for a few minutes. I read a review that said Jane Birkin was horrible but she was the only thing that made this movie at all interesting for me, not that her character or acting were too interesting, just her voice and her presence, I guess. I'd give it a lower score but feel like my dozing off for a few minutes could have made me miss something worthwhile, unlikely as that may be. I'm really surprised that this movie made it on a few critics' ten best lists last year. C

Brotherhood / Broderskab (Nicolo Donato, 2009, Denmark)

The premise is gay love between a new initiate of a neo-Nazi group and a more seasoned member. It sounds like a lurid gay fantasy and there are definitely parts that play that way pretty strongly. The movie starts with Lars, a sergeant or something, being turned down for a promotion because of rumors he came on to some of his men at a bar. It seemed like this information may have been false but perhaps it's like The Children's Hour where a false rumor hints at something that might be near the truth... He's drinking with some friends at one of their homes and some skinheads come and start talking about the Muslims at the asylum center and at first he gets up to leave but he gradually gets sucked in and of course falls for the dreamiest, most secretly sensitive neo-Nazi you could dream up. Sometimes this movie is seems like such a sensationalistic, homo-fantasy that I found myself laughing a lot. What makes this movie remarkable, however, is that it really turns it around by the end. There were moments between these two guys that were really lovely and the drama that ensues is generally effective. I kept thinking, these guys can't just walk into the sunset because they've done some really objectionable things but it's also so boring and unsatisfying if they get murdered or end up all sad sack or hateful or whatever. You really see transformations in this film and I think the end managed to serve up both justice and a satisfying movie experience. I thought it was great. I'd recommend it to most of my friends, especially all the gay guys who inexplicably have endless fantasies about amorous skinheads... I was surprised at first that it won the award at the Rome Film Festival but it seems to make some sense now. B+

P.S., David Dencik is really dreamy as the Nazi rival cum love interest: