Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyrus Movie Review

Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei have an especially close mother-son bond.

Cyrus is a movie about a war of nerves between two emotionally stunted men. John C. Reilly plays John, a man stilled scarred by a divorce seven years ago, and his foil is Cyrus (Jonah Hill), the son of a woman he thinks he may have a future with. The film is directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, who have a couple of minor features and short films to their credit, but finally struck some luck by getting serious financial backing from Scott Free Productions, the production company owned by Tony and Ridley Scott.

Reilly has almost made an entire career out of playing big lovable lugs who wear their emotional insecurities on their sleeve. John, the character, bears a number of similarities to Reilly’s character in Magnolia, also a divorced man perhaps a little too open with his feelings and looking for the right woman.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Spanish Dracula Movie Review

Carlos Villarías uses this expression about 50 times throughout the film.

First published at Mostly Movies on 29 November 2010

It was a common practice in the early sound era for Hollywood studios to produce a second, nearly identical, version of a film in a foreign language. They were produced in Spanish, French and German most often and very few of the foreign language versions survive to this day. One of the most famous that does survive is the Spanish language version of the 1931 Tod Browning Dracula.

George Melford served as director, as was his station at Universal pictures during that period. He directed Spanish language versions of several films. According to IMDb, he neither spoke nor understood the language, but Wikipedia tells me he got the job specifically because of his knowledge of Spanish. Oh what a perfect example of how unreliable the Internet is. Ten years before Drácula he directed Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik, which survives as one of the classics of silent cinema.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Classic Movie Review: Tod Browning's Dracula

What’s most striking about Tod Browning’s Dracula is how, despite being almost comically stylized by modern standards, you can still see its profound influence on horror films through the decades straight up to the present. The camera and lighting techniques were mostly still in their infancy in 1931, and (apart from Fritz Lang’s M from that same year) film makers had yet to learn how to effectively incorporate synchronized sound in a way that augments the action, but most films of the genre that have followed owe some bit of credit to Browning. That said, Dracula itself, the first official film version of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, exhibits the influence of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, the 1922 German silent film that was an unsanctioned adaptation of the famous vampire story.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Alles is liefde Movie Review (Love Is All for you English speakers)

Kiki meets her Prince Charming

I suppose there’s something that should be comforting in the recognition that Hollywood doesn’t hold a monopoly on blatantly stealing from world cinema to create watered down versions of other films accessible to a new audience. It’s unendurably frustrating to see classics remade for new generations or to see successful films from around the world altered to suit American tastes. But we are not alone in the practice.

Love Actually, while certainly not a classic of British cinema, was a lovely Christmas holiday treat several years back. It may have started the sometime trend of amassing a large cast of well-known actors for an ensemble piece by the end of which all the characters’ relationships to one another are revealed. It was well directed and written, had some genuinely sweet, funny and touching moments, and endures as a warm film at this time of year.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tamara Drewe Movie Review: Stephen Frears Attempts Classic British Farce

Gemma Arterton as Tamara Drewe makes heads turn

Stephen Frears is no stranger to directing films that find notes of humor in dark subject matter. The Hit, The Grifters, and even to some extent High Fidelity, all comfortably juxtapose the two moods. His latest film, Tamara Drewe, is an uncomfortable melding of comedy into serious drama. I’m not sure he’s entirely pulled it off here.

It’s the story of the goings-on in a small village called Ewedown in the English countryside. There, Beth and Nicholas Hardiment (Tamsin Greig and Roger Allam) run a quaint hideaway for writers from all around to get “far from the madding crowd,” as their sign out front proclaims. And wouldn’t you know it, but an American writer has taken up residence there to complete his Thomas Hardy book. As (bad) luck would have it, this little spot is also anything but far from the madding crowd. With the high jinks that go on it’s a wonder that Nicholas can manage to crank out another in a series of popular detective novels year after year. Perhaps it’s his shameless philandering with a younger woman that gets him through. The screenplay was written by Moira Buffini based on a serial comic strip by Posy Simmonds. The comic strip itself is based on Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd.

Mr. Nice Movie Review

Bernard Rose was present at the Seville European Film Festival earlier this month presenting his film, Mr. Nice. He comes across like Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty in Stnaley Kubrick’s Lolita, not only by his physical appearance with thick black hair and slight stature, but also in his speaking style and mannerisms, including his frequent adjustment of his horn rimmed glasses.

He introduced his film by prefacing it with his view that drugs should be legal and that people shouldn’t have to languish in prison for years because they take drugs recreationally. He also made sure to draw a distinction between what he considers to be two separate issues: the question of legality on the one hand and of addiction on the other. Any reasonable person should have no trouble agreeing to that, but Rose’s film fails to adequately address the second.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Of Gods and Men Movie Review: Who Knew the Monastic Life Could Make such Fascinating Cinema?

France has suffered an 18 year dry spell at the Oscars, last having won the Foreign Language Film award for Indochine. Their submission for this year, Of Gods and Men, could well be the one to break the bad luck streak. It’s already won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Here is a film of remarkably accomplished skill in storytelling, film technique and empathy.

It’s so refreshing to see a filmmaker who really understands how to use the medium of film effectively. Director Xavier Beauvois has obviously studied and internalized the masters who established film technique when the art form was still in its infancy. The first half is almost like a silent film. Dialogue is minimal. Everything is presented as image and we never have any question about who the characters are, what their relations are to one another or how they feel.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ondine Movie Review: Colin Farrell finds love with a mysterious woman from the sea

Irish director Neil Jordan was at his best when he was focused on making distinctly Irish stories. The triple punch through the middle part of the 1990s of The Crying Game, Michael Collins and The Butcher Boy (we’ll conveniently ignore 1994’s Interview with the Vampire) helped establish him as an important filmmaker capable of crafting intimate character studies within the grander scope of the Irish Revolution and The Troubles in Northern Ireland. After steering off course for more than a decade, I wondered if Ondine, his return to his native country, would provide a welcome repose from the astounding mediocrity of everything from the psychological horror film In Dreams to the Graham Greene adaptation The End of the Affair. That and the inevitable pairing of one of Ireland’s best working directors with Colin Farrell, probably its best working screen actor, gave me some hope.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Hit Movie Review: Stephen Frears' First Feature Film

Terence Stamp is identified by John Hurt while Tim Roth holds a gun to his face.

Stephen Frears’ first feature film, The Hit, came in 1984 after a long career in British television. It is a rough production, bearing more resemblance to low-budget TV movies and independent cinema than to the polished work that defines his career today. I saw it recently as part of the Seville European Film Festival. Rather unfortunately it was presented not on 35mm, but in some kind of video format. It looked like VHS or Laserdisc blown up for the big screen. I found this to be largely distracting for the first several scenes. Surely my overall impression of the film itself was affected by the inferiority of the images.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hancock Movie Review: A Different Kind of Hero

Will Smith as John Hancock, looking smug after carelessly destroying a freight train.

Hancock is sort of a “What if…” movie with regard to superheroes. What if there were a superhero who was good, but rude and offensive and generally left more of a mess in his wake than was worth the good deed done? It also rather amusingly deals with the problem of birds getting in the way of a hero in flight, a subject never broached by any incarnation of Superman. John Hancock, played by the reliably charismatic Will Smith, is such a guy. He’s got the strength and flying ability of Superman, but none of the finesse. When he takes off and lands he leaves giant holes in the street. He drinks most of the time and is generally regarded as a public nuisance. He saves lives not to the final applause of astonished onlookers, but to jeers and sneers (and a lot worse) of a public that is tired of his antics.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I Am Legend Movie Review: A Legend for the Wrong Reasons

Robert Neville (Will Smith) and Sam stare down the Dark Seekers.

In the opening moments of I Am Legend, the 2007 film based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, Robert Neville (Will Smith) sneaks up on a deer grazing on the streets of New York after chasing it away from a scampering herd in midtown Manhattan. Suddenly a female lion pounces on the deer, stealing what would have been several nice meals for the presumed last man on Earth. The lioness is swiftly followed by her cubs and a stoic male waiting for his share and staring down Neville until he decides the better part of valor is to live to hunt another day. In this sequence the hunter striving for survival is supplanted by a different type of hunter also acting out of self-preservation, suggesting the theme of the source novel – a promise the film never lives up to.