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