Monday, October 5, 2009

Weekly Roundup - 28/09/09 to 04/10/09

Black Book (2006, Paul Verhoeven)
Grade: B

Cyclo (1995, Tran Anh Hung)
Grade: A+

Keane (2004, Lodge Kerrigan)
Grade: C

Memories of Murder (2003, Bong Joon-ho)
Grade: A

Repulsion (1965, Roman Polanski)*
Grade: B+

* x2

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Cherry Blossoms" (2008, Dir: Doris Dörrie)

Heavily inspired by Ozu's "Tokyo Story", this German film is undeniably moving but somewhat tonally uneven. Despite some cliches in the story telling, there are sequences (such as the lead character's final moments - this isn't really a spoiler, so don't worry) that have a beautiful, understated grace. The ensemble is very good all-around, but I was most impressed by legendary German actress Hannelore Elsner as the lead character's wife, who is featured in the beginning and is the impetus for most of the 2nd and 3rd act events.

Grade: B-

"It's Easier for a Camel..." (2003, Dir: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi)

Grade: B+

"A Way of Life" (2004, Dir: Amma Asante)

Grade: F

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"The Son" (2002, Dir: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne)

Grade: B-

"La Moustache" (2005, Dir: Emmanuel Carrère)

Grade: D

"Live-in Maid" (2004, Dir: Jorge Gaggero)

This gentle, perceptive character study is a breezy, poignant delight buoyed by two fantastic performances. Norma Argentina gives a wonderfully generous, open take on her character here, but for me the better of the two was Norma Aleandro. She wisely chooses not to play her self-absorbed ex-businesswoman for laughs, because her character, Beba, is funny to begin with. She's impossibly deluded, vain and self-centred - all very funny and very real traits in Aleandro's hands. But she lets us see how her relationship with Dora changes her. The role could have been incredibly shrill and grating in a lesser actress's hands, but Aleandro wisely chooses not to condescend to or judge the admittedly difficult character, playing her with insight, compassion, honesty and understanding. This film is definitely worth a look, it's a lovely little gem. The ending is perfect.

Grade: B

"Late Marriage" (2001, Dir: Dover Koshashvili)

Grade: A-

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams" (2006, Dir: Jasmila Zbanic)

Grade: B+

"In the City" (2003, Dir: Cesc Gay)

This Spanish ensemble drama is smartly written and correctly acted, but the direction is so cold and impersonal, the visuals so ugly and the overall tone so static that it is nigh-impossible to get involved. There are a few properly tangible performances in the mix - Maria Pujalte is an open presence but paints her characters strokes too broadly, Monica Lopez gives a sad, ambient performance but one wishes she didn't underplay so much. Eduard Fernandez's performance is the only one that truly captivated me, he hints at many roiling emotions under his cool exterior. On a technical level quite fine, but unutterably dull.

Grade: D

Friday, June 19, 2009

"Birth" (2004, Dir: Jonathan Glazer)

Birth - Random Thoughts:

Interesting but flawed. Nicole Kidman deserves props for picking the diverse films and complex roles she does, but unfortunately she's quite untalented. She is a clear case of an actress who tries desperately to break free from her own mediocrity but fails almost every time. Even in her good performances it is so clear that she's stretching herself to the limit. She's perfectly adequate here but the script required someone a lot more interesting and a lot more capable at playing both character and emotion... I can't understand those who say that she gives one of the decade's best performances here. Her opera scene is only impressive if you consider someone keeping their eyes open until they cry interesting (Maggie Cheung needs to know this after ITMFL, as well), and her efforts in it are hindered by the fact that she can't move her face anymore. I must, say I was quite impressed with Anne "Princess Celestia" Heche, however. The score was great also, it was the first thing that jumped out at me. Interesting visuals, too. Lauren Bacall is rancid as usual, no matter how small her part is in any film she's convinced its all about her. I'd like to see what else Glazer will do in the future, I quite enjoyed "Sexy Beast" (and I thought it had better acting on the whole).

Grade: C+

"Double Happiness" (1994, Dir: Mina Shum)

Good fun showcasing a little-heard-from section of Western culture (Asian-Canadian families) is sweet enough, but on a craft level its pretty rote. The writing is rife with cliches and the acting is stilted and school-play-esque (although Oh makes an appealing frontwoman and I quite enjoyed Alannah Ong's perceptive supporting performance).

Grade: C-

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"The Barbarian Invasions" (2003, Dir: Denys Arcand)

Unwatchable. I nearly died. I don't even want to talk about this disgusting piece of filth movie.

Grade: F (minus minus)

PS: MJC (<3) was ok.

"The Aura" (2005, Dir: Fabián Bielinsky)

Grade: B

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Alexandra's Project" (2003, Dir: Rolf de Heer)

Not an entirely successful film, but one that definitely deserves to be seen and discussed. Will post more thoughts later if I have time.

Grade: C

"L'Iceberg" (2005, Dir: Dominique Abel & Fiona Gordon)

Grade: C+

"Daisies" (1966, Dir: Vera Chytilová)

Visually brilliant but nowhere near as fun or interesting as it should be.

Grade: C

Thursday, June 4, 2009

"Princesas" (2005, Dir: Fernando Léon de Aranoa)

de Aranoa's follow-up to the far better "Mondays in the Sun" is incredibly well-acted (especially by Candela Peña, now one of my favorite actresses) but is too precious and cloying by half. It touches on different issues and subplots without really delving deep into them, and the entire giggling prostitute gal-pals scenario comes off as exploitative, as more of a millennial Boys' Own fantasy than the gritty slice-of-life (check those blurred license plates in one scene...) it so clearly wants to come across as. Basically a Lifetime-style drama shot in a verité style with better actors.

Grade: C-

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Gypo" (2005, Dir: Jan Dunn)

This Dogme 95 film is just another example of the style's inability to foster a good, or even an interesting, film. Pretty much highlights all of that movement's failures, and even though the direction and plotting is sophisticated it is let down by the uninspired camerawork, shoddy editing and by most of the actors, none of whom have a lick of improvisational talent, save for the luminous Chloe Sirene who gives the film's only truly good performance. The improvisation is supposed to make for "real" dialogue but the actors' lines just come off as stilted, weird and unrealistic. A really poor film from a really misguided film movement.

Grade: F

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Year of the Dog" (2007, Dir: Mike White)

Involving flick suffers from being a bit too self-conscious with its gags at first, but becomes more comfortable in its own skin as it crosses the line from "quirky indie comedy" to poignant drama. Takes great pains not to judge its lead character's behavior, but Molly Shannon's painfully honest performance largely guarantees that our vision of her character isn't going to be spun by any of the script's manipulations.

Grade: B-

"Duel in the Sun" (1946, Dir: King Vidor)

Grade: C-

"Red Road" (2006, Dir: Andrea Arnold)

Grade: B

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Mondays in the Sun" (2002, Dir: Fernando Léon de Aranoa)

Grade: B

"Angela" (2002, Dir: Roberta Torre)

Maudlin Italian drama is bereft of any real appeal save for Donatella Finocchario's nuanced perf. Roberta Torre is an observant director, but she has no sense of flow or rhythm, and her episodic treatment of the film's potentially steamy plot makes it drag on and on... All in all, horribly boring but proficient enough on a craft and acting scale to keep this from sliding any lower on the grade scale.

Grade: D

Monday, May 25, 2009

"Torremolinos 73" (Dir: Pablo Berger)

Spanish comedy juggles multiple themes and moods and ends up dropping all of them in the final act. Well-acted, especially by my newest cinematic woman-crush Candela Pena, who brings a bit of grace to the maudlin proceedings.

Grade: C

"Backstage" (2005, Dir: Emmanuelle Bercot)

Bercot's debut film showcases some hella good acting (Le Besco, Seigner, Lvovsky etc) but the intense, almost operatic emotional tone of the film is sustained for so long that it begins to become seriously overbearing.

Grade: B

"The Cuckoo" (2002, Dir: Aleksandr Rogozhkin)

Interesting historical exercise benefits from some excellent tech work but a lack of driving force and a ludicrous third-act plot insert make this little more than a curio.

Grade: C+

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"The Cranes Are Flying" (1957, Dir: Mikhail Kalatozov)

Sweeping Russian war/romance manages to provide big, filling, old-Hollywood-style entertainment while cutting to the core emotionally multiple times. Camerawork is brilliant, with some great use of light and shadow and magnificent tracking shots.

Grade: A+

Saturday, May 23, 2009

"The Earrings of Madame de..." (1953, Dir: Max Ophüls)

Visually sumptuous and well-acted, but I'm not sure I buy the humanity beneath all that sheen. There are moments of vapidity and moments of stunning dramatic power (the end, for instance) but altogether I'm not sure it coheres. Not completely to my taste, but a worthwhile work to check out.

Grade: B

"Au Hasard Balthazar" (1966, Dir: Robert Bresson)

Transcendent cinematic parable satisfies on both an emotional and spiritual level, using a deceptively simple story to put forward some potent truths about human nature and the lives of the faithful. It's enough to make one born again!

Grade: A+

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Merci pour le Chocolat" (2000, Dir: Claude Chabrol)

Enjoyable but unsettling thriller showcases Chabrol's unique grasp of mystery - here he unravels the layers of the narrative's central conceit like someone husking corn - and excellent talent with actors (all of whom, but especially Isabelle Huppert and Brigitte Catillon, are brilliant), but we never really get a feel for the characters' motivations and the overly-expository dialogue is pretty heavy-handed.

Grade: C+

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"Berlin: Symphony of a Great City" (1927, Dir: Walter Ruttmann)

Dazzling montage is more restrained than Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera but, in some ways, more impressive. Ruttmann uses less techniques than Vertov did, but it is no less innovative - the composition and editing here are far more creative than the madcap, joyful but unfocused camerawork & cutting in Man with a Movie Camera. Also interesting is that Berlin predates the Vertov film by two years, and it clearly influenced it.

Grade: A+

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Clean" (2004, Olivier Assayas)

Well-acted, written and edited. Its rather clinical directorial approach can both benefit the film and hurt it (we can never feel really connected to the characters, even the [miscast] Maggie Cheung's pivotal lead). I don't know how I feel about Maggie Cheung as an actress. She has her moments here (her teary scene with Beatrice Dalle is impressive but seems spliced in from another point in the film) but in this, as in In the Mood for Love, the mechanics of her performance are really clear. She never really seems comfortable or credible in this character, and I'd like to have seen a less poised, more earthy, intuitive actress (like, perhaps, Yang Kuei-mei, or Bai Ling [who is a good actress, actually]) in the part.

Grade: B

"Look Both Ways" (2005, Dir: Sarah Watt)

Sweet little romance has a likeable cast (save for the obnoxious Anthony Hayes) and some funny moments, but leans altogether too much on dramatic irony to push its plot along. However, this is a promising debut, and I'm excited to see what else Sarah Watt (perhaps a little bit too assured in her directorial ability here) has up her sleeve.

Grade: C+

"Room" (2005, Dir: Kyle Henry)

An intriguing but incredibly oblique premise and a disappointing, cop-out ending could make this a tough sit for some viewers, but I found myself bewitched thanks to some coolly creepy soundwork and an impressive, lived-in performance from the lead Cyndi Williams (a voice and stage actress who works mostly in her hometown of Austin, TX). The director is interesting and could do something really cool with a bigger budget ($$ constraints really show here), and he definitely has a good hand with actors, but he needs to really refine his vision if he wants to make more films.

Grade: C+

Monday, May 18, 2009

"The Spirit of the Beehive" (1973, Dir: Victor Erice)

A absolutely magnificently directed and shot exploration of a young girl's yearning to understand the nature of life and death. A must-see for fans of mid-century Spanish-language cinema. (I can't believe Victor Erice has only made, what, three feature films?)

Grade: A+

"Common Wealth" (2000, Álex de la Iglesia)

Enjoyably corny Spanish thrill-omedy starts off awkwardly but gets funnier as the subject matter gets darker. Worth a look if you just want some entertainment.

Grade: C

MY NEW CRUSH Luis Tosar is in this film in a small role!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

"Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" (1974, Dir: Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

Beautifully-shot drama (and companion piece to Sirk's All That Heaven Allows and Haynes's later Far from Heaven) deals with its subject in a refreshingly simple, straightforward way - which leaves more room for the script and actors to explore the emotional possibilities of the premise. Very well done. My first Fassbinder - and I look forward to seeing a lot more!

Grade: A+

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Take My Eyes" (2003, Dir: Icíar Bollaín)

Brilliantly written and acted drama about spousal abuse is genuinely wrenching and very discussable with a keen, perceptive eye fixed on male-female relationships.

Grade: A-

"Hiroshima Mon Amour" (1959, Dir: Alain Resnais)

A beautiful, beautiful film. Lost in Translation has nothing on this.

An interesting note: in An Affair of Love, Nathalie Baye and Sergi Lopez's characters were revealed in the credits to be named "Elle" and "Lui" - which are Emmanuelle Riva's and Eiji Okada's characters' names in this film.

Grade: A

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Common Ground" (2002, Dir: Adolfo Aristarain)

Talky Argentinian drama that explores the marriage of an older couple and their lives after the husband is forced to retire from his post as literature professor at a university. Verbose as it is, and despite the slow pace, it is a consistently enjoyable watch, well-acted and very well-written with a real emotional core.

Grade: B+

"Rana's Wedding" (2002, Dir: Hany Abu-Assad)

A very well-directed Palestinian dramedy with a great lead performance by the hawk-eyed, often scarily intense actress Clara Khoury.

Grade: B+

"Spring Subway" (2002, Dir: Zhang Yibai)

A magnificently shot and breezily enjoyable Chinese melodrama that is nevertheless dramatically episodic and stiled, the director's past as a music video coordinator really shows. Still, sometimes all you are hungry for is corn, and this wouldn't be a bad choice if you are up for something entertaining and sappy, it is at the very least gorgeous to look at. I enjoyed the stories about the peripheral characters more than the leads - the burn victim, the baker, the health-food saleswoman (who was very good and very funny in her subway scenes), the photo girl and the roller-skating young man. The "reveal" about the young man's reasons for never talking to the girl was unexpectedly emotional and the closest the film gets to genuine feeling.

Grade: C-

Sunday, May 3, 2009

"Claire Dolan" (1998, Dir: Lodge Kerrigan)

Cerebral psychological study showcases Lodge Kerrigan's talents as a director - an uncanny eye for composition and a knack for amping up audience unease all the way to 11 - but he takes some gambles with the acting and pacing that don't pay off (although they make sense as directorial choices).

Grade: C

"Solas" (1999, Dir: Benito Zambrano)

Grade: B-

"Obsessed" (2009, Dir: Steve Shill)

Grade: F

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Maelstrom" (2000, Dir: Denis Villeneuve)

An effective, charismatically directed thriller with a tour-de-force lead performance from Naomi Watts lookalike Marie-Josee Croze. The directorial "quirks" - the rapid-fire editing, 'mood' photography, symbolism and the fact that the film itself is narrated by a fish - might turn off some viewers, but I thought it was great fun and, ultimately, unexpectedly moving.

Grade: B+

Friday, May 1, 2009

"Humanité" (1999, Dir: Bruno Dumont)

Grade: A

"The Closed Doors" (1999, Dir: Atef Hetata)

Subtle but powerful psychological portrait of a boy whose involvement with an Islamic fundamentalist group leads to tragedy. Examines themes encompassing class, gender, the mother-son relationship, sex and desire, masculinity, the treatment of women in Islamic society and the role of religion in general in peoples' lives. It's an interesting juggling act that showcases an diamond-in-the-rough neophyte director - unfortunately, this has so far been Hetata's only feature film.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Bread and Tulips" (2000, Dir: Silvio Soldini)

Enjoyable film with immensely likeable lead perfs by Licia Maglietta and Bruno Ganz, but more than a little cliche. Pacing in parts is clumsy, but all in all its a pleasant feel-good movie.

Grade: C+

Saturday, April 25, 2009

"Suzhou River" (2000, Dir: Ye Lou)

Stylistically and structurally audacious, well-acted by the leads Jia and Zhou, incredibly well-shot and quite moving. Definitely worth a look for fans of Lou, Wong and other contemporary Chinese directors.

Grade: A

"An Affair of Love" (1999, Dir: Frédéric Fonteyne)

Very touching and extremely well-acted. Sometimes it borders on being too smart for its own good (and the production is more than a little glossy) but somehow, despite the psychobabble, it manages to tap in to something tender and deeply human.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Mother Joan of the Angels" (1961, Dir: Jerzy Kawalerowicz)

Good acting, stunning images, nice use of symbolism... but there's something missing. It just didn't grip me, and some of the esoteric scene transitions and the lack of straightforwardness seemed less like artistic daring and more like clumsy filmmaking.

Grade: B-

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Salò" (1975, Dir: Pier Paolo Pasolini)

A nasty, nasty, nasty masterpiece.

Grade: A+

Friday, April 17, 2009

"Fear and Trembling" (2003, Dir: Alain Corneau)

Moderately funny culture clash/office drama that is fun to watch but never really impacts the audience in any way other than to cause an errant giggle here and there. Sylvie Testud is an excellent actress and she certainly helps to better the material here, but one can't help but think that a talent such as hers is somewhat wasted in a fluffy film like this. Her winning the Cesar for this performance (which did happen) would be akin to Kate Winslet winning for "The Holiday" - both are material-transcending but limited performances by two major talents. Pic deserves some credit, at least, for making a film about mind-numbing office work into something at least mildly entertaining. Techs look TV movie-esque, and I'm pretty sure this was shot on a set.

Grade: C

"Ghosts of Mississippi" (1996, Dir: Rob Reiner)

Grade: F

"Smoke Signals" (1998, Dir: Chris Eyre)

Grade: C-

"Murderous Maids" (2000, Dir: Jean-Pierre Denis)

Grade: B+

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"In the Mood for Love" (2000, Dir: Kar Wai Wong)

I enjoyed the acting by the two leads and the gorgeous imagery (and, oh gosh, the costumes) - but the message could have been incredibly affecting had it been delivered with a bit more mystique and emotional power. The use of "play-acting" as a story device was a weird choice that didn't really work, and that one musical motif is beautiful but using it about 10,000 approaches overkill. I like Wong's work, but in terms of his films about love, loss and longing, I think "Happy Together" is this film's superior in every way.

Grade: B-

"The Forest for the Trees" (2003, Dir: Maren Ade)

Grade: A-

"The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" (2006, Dir: Mamoru Hosoda)

Grade: A

Memo to Joe - you'll love this!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Secret Sunshine" (2007, Dir: Chang-dong Lee)

Why is this listed as a comedy/romance on IMDb? There are elements of both, but if I had to categorize this it'd be put squarely in the 'heavy drama' category.

In any case, the story is powerfully sincere and the lead actress Do-yeon Jeon (who won Best Actress at Cannes) is amazing. She's required to portray myriad changes in her character's world outlook and personality, and it is thanks to her that the central arc never feels choppy. Supporting actor Kang-ho Song is sweet but the way he plays his character leaves his encounters with other actors prone to a sort of emotional blocking. The film itself is earnest but a bit bloated, fat could have been trimmed (especially from the third act). Worth seeing.

Grade: B

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Still Life" (2006, Dir: Zhang Ke Jia)

Director Jia tries to reconcile pretentious art-house quirk (spaceships? wtf?) with a kind of lackadaisical navel gazing that he tries to pass off as "meditation" and "contemplation" in this soporific exercise. Trying to create an impression of emotional heft when there is really none to be found, Jia manages only to create an insular, sprawling bore of a film that, if it ever succeeds, does so on the credit of its stunning Yangtze River scenery and lead actress Tao Zhao's likeable performance (the nonpro supporting actors are atrocious). How did this win at Venice? And why did LAFCA join in the circle jerk? One of the few pluses in this film (aside from Zhao and the entrancing landscape sequences) is the abundance of muscular, shirtless Asian men. However, seeing them only reminded me of how I would rather be watching porn than a slow, boring, pointless film such as this one. Potentially interesting as a snapshot of the contemporary Chinese lower-class, but that's about it.

Grade: D

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Four Minutes" (2006, Dir: Chris Kraus)

Very, very well-acted, but awkwardly paced, incredibly derivative and filled with some of the most atrociously cliche situations and dialogue. Still, the stunning ending and the electric perf by Hannah Herzsprung - who makes every line of crummy dialogue sound real and spontaneous - makes this worth a look. The film as a whole is occasionally embarrassing (for sheer obvious cheesiness!) but entertaining thanks to the performances of Herzsprung and Monica Bleibtreu.

Grade: C-

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Lilya 4-Ever" (2002, Dir: Lukas Moodysson)

Harrowing, powerful and consistently compelling with magnificent performances, especially by the luminous Oksana Akinshina in the lead and the touching Artyom Bogucharsky in support. Films overall impact is blunted slightly by some late-in-the-film dream sequences that are obtrusive and incongruous. Ending could have left more to audience imagination than it already does. Still, a truly worthwhile watch.

Grade: A-

Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Georgia" (1995, Dir: Ulu Grosbard)

Brilliant. A straightforward directorial approach helps illuminate both a marvelous script and an assembly of actors giving performances that are nothing short of spectacular. Mare Winningham deserved the win in her category in '95, and I can't believe that Jennifer Jason Leigh was snubbed in lead actress. Max Perlich, Ted Levine and other support actors are all excellent. The script (written by Jason Leigh's mother, Barbara Turner) is consistently surprising and complex. A far better film than I expected.

Grade: A

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Hana & Alice" (2004, Dir: Shunji Iwai)

"Hana & Alice" is another film from a genre I really love - the Eastern coming-of-age/youth film. Some of my favorite films - "Linda Linda Linda", "Take Care of My Cat", "A Gentle Breeze in the Village", "Nobody Knows" etc. belong in this genre. "Hana & Alice" is a consistently enjoyable entry in the genre but never manages to evoke the depth or the tonal complexity of films like "Linda Linda Linda" or "Take Care of My Cat". It is a fun watch, but not a particularly satisfying one. The director, Shunji Iwai (who directed "All About Lily Chou-Chou") tries to pull off some incredibly tricky shifts in tone that never quite work. "Hana & Alice" often tries to switch from out-and-out farce to whimsical romantic fantasy to bittersweet realism in a single scene, but these shifts feel forced and make the film seem choppy.

The acting is a mixed bag. Both of the young leads are pretty good, and are convincing as best friends - Anne Suzuki, as the childish and impulsive Hana, has an expressive face that she uses to her full advantage. She's engaging, but her highly animated performance veers dangerously close to mugging at times. Yu Aoi, as the pretty and kind but not very bright Alice, succeeds thanks to some very simple (but wise) acting decisions that make the Alice arc far more satisfying to watch. Aoi is a smart enough actress to recognize the sadness in Alice's situations (with Hana, Masashi and with her mother especially) even if the direction and script fail to do so. Her very moving scene with her father is more layered, interesting and emotional than all of Suzuki's scenes combined.

The major problem with the performances comes from Suzuki and Aoi's differing acting styles. Their scenes together work because they are able to conjure up a believable friendly chemistry - but on their own, or with other co-stars, they seem to be acting in different films. Suzuki treats the role of Hana to broad comedy (save for an impressive, if overjuiced, big crying scene) and as a result, seems to be acting in a completely different film to Aoi and her quieter, more intuitive performance. Supporting players are generally okay. Tomohiro Kaku, as the girls' mutual love interest, has one vocal tic that really irritates, and his character doesn't really make any sense (then again, the film's central conceit is bafflingly unrealistic), and the leader of the comedy club is a horribly annoying character that could have been left out entirely.

The cinematography is gorgeous (especially during the first forty minutes), but the over-reliance on blurred, oversaturated backgrounds to represent puppy love really grates after a while. The cutesy musical motif is charming to begin with, but I was weary of it by the end, as well.

Definitely an enjoyable diversion, but the story is too thin to hold up to close scrutiny - it is definitely a film trying to be something it isn't.

Grade: C+

Friday, February 20, 2009

Monday, February 16, 2009

"The Return" (2003, Dir: Andrei Zvyagintsev)

Grade: A+

Yes, the writer's block continues... But I do encourage everyone to see this marvelous film, one of the most powerful I've seen made since the millennium.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Revolutionary Road" (2008, Dir: Sam Mendes)

I thought it was just awful and so melodramatic. Thematically, it just didn't make sense, and the acting by the leads was so stilted... it reminded me of an amateur college production whenever Kate and Leo had a scene together. There just seemed to be something stopping them from really getting into the characters. Indeed the only time their acting seemed even remotely real to me was from the final breakfast scene onwards, but it just wasn't enough.

I like Michael Shannon a lot and I'm glad he's getting this nomination, because it broadens his horizons, but he gave an underwhelming performance. The role was a showstopper in the book, and pretty much anyone could have impressed with it, but I found his acting hammy (that obvious thing he did with his mouth and the squinting!) and unimaginative. I've seen two far superior and more creative "crazy" performances this year - Jason Butler Harner in "Changeling" and of course Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight". I thought the best performance actually was given by Kathy Bates, who I usually dislike. A key scene of her character's was left out of the film (which is sad, she would have gotten an Oscar nomination had they left it in) but I thought she was excellent with the role of a woman desperate to hide her inner sadness. She gave a consistently surprising, subtle performance that was the complete opposite of Shannon's blunt raging. The supporting performances ranged from good (I liked Kathryn Hahn's comic stylings and the guy who played Bart Pollock with great charisma) to awful (Dylan Baker, a fine actor, is downright embarrassing here).

The marvelously cynical ending was one of the few things I really loved about the book - but there it worked because the overall tone of the book was so caustically snide. With a film this painfully earnest, you can't tack on an ending like this and expect it to work within the context of the picture. The entire satirical tone of the novel was completely lost in its translation to the screen.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"Taboo" (1999, Dir: Nagisa Oshima)

Pros: Intriguing and haunting. Discussable.

Cons: Stagy (but that was the point, I think). Odd editing style. Some of the symbolism is heavy-handed.

Grade: B+

Friday, January 16, 2009

"The Visitor" (2007, Todd McCarthy)

Pros: Subtly inventive lead performance by Richard Jenkins.

Cons: The exploration of American immigration issues is incredibly simplistic and heavy-handed. Mind-numbing pacing. Sophomoric script. Wooden performances from Sleiman, Abbass and Gurira.

Grade: D

Friday, January 9, 2009

"Gran Torino" (2008, Dir: Clint Eastwood)

Pros: As a satire, it's brilliant.

Cons: As a drama, it's probably the worst film of the year.

Grade: C-

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"The Secret of NIMH" (1982, Dir: Don Bluth)

Pros: Great story. Doesn't patronize its audience. Lovely visuals. Nice attention to detail. Stellar voice acting.

Cons: Cheesy music. Plot holes.

Grade: A-

Friday, January 2, 2009

"Together" (2000, Dir: Lukas Moodysson)

Pros: Good visual sense. Despite the eclectic characters and colorful cinematography, retains a core of emotional truth. Great acting by the ensemble (esp. Nyqvist, Hammarsten and Samuelsson). Pulls the heartstrings in unexpected ways. Takes pains to explore the 'collective' situation from all sides.

Cons: Some of the characters are very unlikeable. The Klas/Lasse relationship felt false to me.

Grade: B+

"28 Weeks Later" (2007, Dir: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo)

Pros: Miles better than the first film. Good balance of graphic violence with tension. Reliable thesps Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner and Robert Carlyle chip in professional jobs.

Pros?/Cons?: Some of the violence - like the really disgusting and cruel eye-gouging scene - made me genuinely queasy.

Cons: The editing is occasionally so rapid-fire as to cheapen the film's overall point (to scare). Some genuinely stupid characters. Overall, too prosaic to get more than a 'C'.

Grade: C