Saturday, November 30, 2013
Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners spends two hours being so good it comes as a bit of a disappointment that the resolution is so utterly conventional. For an investigative thriller it is almost unbelievably contemplative. It’s a movie that is more content to get into the minds of its characters than to dutifully land on action beats at the appropriate moments, although the action does arrive, often ferociously.
I sort of remembered Eastern Promises, David Cronenberg’s film about a woman who gets mixed up in the dealings of the Russian mafia in London, as a much more significant movie the first time around. The stakes felt much higher when I saw it on its initial run in cinemas. Maybe this is a movie that really loses something once you know who is who and what their real motivations are. When you don’t know what’s coming, the film really feels dangerous because the Russian mafia might do anything to anyone at any time.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Oliver & Company, inspired by Dickens' Oliver Twist, was Disney's predecessor to their animated musicals renaissance a year later. With songs by Billy Joel, it paved the way for The Little Mermaid and The Lion King.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown brought great international success, and a first Oscar nomination, to Pedro Almodóvar.
I always had a soft spot for the Bill Murray comedy Scrooged, a contemporary update of Dickens' A Christmas Carol with Murray as a cold-hearted TV executive who learns the meaning of Christmas through lessons delivered by a ghost played by Carol Kane, Bob Goldthwaite in the Bob Cratchit role. Also with Robert Mitchum, Karen Allen, and Alfre Woodard.
Is a three hour running time for a romantic drama a little indulgent? In general, I’d say it probably is, but there’s no one size fits all answer. If the story is suited to it and it’s compelling enough to carry you through, then why not? The French drama Blue Is the Warmest Color, winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, takes cinematic romantic love to rarely touched emotional depths. The epic length didn’t feel so long to me, which must be viewed as testament to the humane and sensitive direction by Abdellatif Kechiche and the incredible and brave performances by the two female leads, Adéle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
People make a big deal out of actors packing on or shedding the pounds for the sake of a role. Think about De Niro in Raging Bull, Christian Bale in The Machinist, or Tom Hanks in Cast Away and images immediately come to mind of an altered body paired with a great performance. It’s easy to conflate physical transformation and great acting or to think that the one causes the other. I suppose it helps the actor get into the mind of the character in some cases, but regardless, the actor still has to do the work in his head even after the physical aspect has taken root.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
|The old man and the sea.|
So the post-apocalyptic trend that started the year in cinema has given way to stories of survival – specifically a single survivor persevering against all odds. Gravity and Captain Phillips are now joined by All Is Lost, which sees Robert Redford as the sole cast member in a film about a man fighting against the elements and a damaged sailboat in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
When we first meet Our Man (he’s not credited with a name) he’s penning a message in a bottle, a letter to his children apologizing for not doing a better job. He has obviously reached a point where he believes all is lost. Eight days earlier he’s awakened by the crashing sound of a shipping container smashing a hole in the hull of his yacht. From here, the plot is simple: he fixes the hole; he attempts radio communication; he’s tossed about by a storm; loses the boat; sets adrift in a life raft hoping to be rescued in the main shipping lane. Talking about the particulars of what happens in All Is Lost is not nearly as interesting as how Our Man reacts to his increasingly despairing turns of events.
The terrible and embarrassing legacy of slavery is a dark mark on this country. It was a human atrocity that we have only just begun to understand. It remains, more than 150 years after its eradication, the defining factor in race relations. White people would not be where they are in terms of status and privilege without having held black people in bondage. And blacks continue to bear the burden of that time. I’m not sure any movie could possibly do perfect justice as a representation of the horrors of slavery, punishments, beatings, rapes, and other indignities that slaves suffered, but 12 Years a Slave comes closer than anything I’ve seen. This is possibly the least sanitized version ever put on film.
|On big happy dysfunctional family.|
From the explosively charged opening tracking shot that introduces most of the major characters to the quietly triumphant closing, Boogie Nights never lets up. It flogs you with an emotional paddle again and again. The ups are sometimes as extreme in their euphoria as the downs are dismal. For me, it is still the most exciting film Paul Thomas Anderson has made. It was only his second feature, but his dialogue is truly second to none and he squeezes in a remarkable amount of character development. He can economize better than any other writer-director working.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Back in 1996 I was truly taken in by Barry Levinson’s Sleepers, adapted from Lorenzo Carcaterra’s allegedly autobiographical novel relating his experiences as a boy growing up in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, becoming the victim of terrible physical and sexual abuse at a boys’ reform school, and the revenge he and his friends exacted upon their tormentors as adults years later. When the book was published and then later when the film was released, there were many who questioned the validity of the story. There is no independent record of any of the events described. Of course juvenile records are expunged and Carcaterra claims he changed locations, which offers reasonable explanations as to why journalists were unable to unearth any court records similar to what takes place in the second half of the story. Just looking at it in terms of sheer believability, the first half involving Carcaterra (his character goes by the nickname Shakes) and his three best friends as adolescents is selling something so much easier to swallow than the revenge-filled latter half.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Full disclosure: I’m an almost shameless lover of the Coen brothers. There’s hardly a film they’ve made that I don’t like and with one exception, I own every one of their films on DVD. That doesn’t mean I’m blind to the things that don’t work and the films that fail in some very important aspects. With that said, The Hudsucker Proxy was always a film I liked for its quirky Coen-ness, but clearly I wasn’t crazy about it because it took me fourteen years after I got my first DVD player (and nineteen years after the film was released) to purchase a copy.