Posted on 5/13/10 10:08 AM
Guillaume Canet's thriller opens on one of those naturalistic dinner party scenes: all glasses clinking and laughter and dialogue just a pitch below hearing. Yet this is a misleading beginning for a film that progresses into a thoroughly surprising and superior tale of a husband's desperate search for his seemingly dead wife.
Canet executes the set-up for his tale beautifully, placing his couple stark naked, lakeside, and under the moonlight to emphasize the sheer indulgence of their love. Then with little dialogue he changes the tone from romanticism, to blinding horror as Alexandre (Francois Cluzet) hears a scream and tries in vain to save his wife Margot (Josee Croze) but is beaten over the head by her attacker.
The casting of this couple was crucial as for all its twists and turns what follows is essentially their love story; and neither Cluzet nor Croze disappoint-the latter possessing a perfect vulnerable quality (akin to Naomi Watts in 'King Kong'). However, it is to Cluzet that we owe such an absorbing tale of grief and that false friend: memory.
As we flash forward eight years he conveys sometimes only through his eyes the ever-present grief ready to resurface as soon as his wife's name is mentioned. And, this being a thriller her name is mentioned pretty quickly in the form of an email, plunging the audience into a taut whodunit/what really happened/who's hiding something tale, the answer being of course everyone. And what a terrific supporting cast we are treated with: Margot's father (Andre Dussollier) effortlessly conveys equal parts frustration and resolute duty; while one cut to Jean Rochefort's brooding and wrinkled face alerts the audience to all the pain of his past. Kristin Scott Thomas is possibly even more captivating in French and her poise and cheekbones seem to be a natural marriage with the language and Parisian backdrop. . Canet uses this midsummer Paris to his full advantage to turn up the heat on his fevered search, notably in a touching scene where Alex is racing through the sweltering streets with a giant dog.
"An innocent man" declares Alex's lawyer "does not run". (What-has she not seen 'The Fugitive'?) In any case thank goodness in this circumstance he does as these provide the most compelling scenes in which even Alex crossing a motorway becomes a thing of beauty.
What keeps us gripped though, is that we actually care about these characters and their fate-about what really happened that night (which is possibly why I put up with a slightly indulgent confession scene), and despite the fact that this thriller utterly surpassed most of the usual Hollywood offerings; I found myself craving what Tinsel Town does best: a happy ending.
Three and a half stars, out of four.
Posted on 5/13/10 10:07 AM
Suffering the double whammy of being directed by Terry Gilliam (forever the attracter of on-set misfortune – Don Quixote, anyone?) and the untimely death of its star, Heath Ledger, halfway through shooting, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus has had a troubled upbringing. But with the actor's tragic passing, its unremarkable place on 2009's cinema calendar was upped by being Ledger's second posthumous and final movie, unfairly burdening the film with the anticipation of it being something great.
It's not great. But it is a good movie, and probably Gilliam's best in over a decade. Also, bittersweet though it may be, Ledger's inability to complete his work is remedied in an incredibly inventive manner that arguably improves what would have been; the multiple facets of Ledger's mysterious Tony in the Imaginarium is a great inflection, and Gilliam deserves credit for this creative retooling, and for the fact that the haste in which it was applied is not at all noticeable. Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell (who all donated their wages to his daughter, Matilda) honorably step in to play the alternates, paying poignant tribute to their friend. All are good (though Farrell's Irish accent is far too thick to flatten), Depp probably being the best, but its all mimicry; Ledger is the one who does all the work. His Tony, performed with a flawless English accent, is a great part for him, possessing all the characteristics of vintage Ledger – charismatic, droll, physically erratic, etc. It's not on par with his work in Brokeback Mountain or The Dark Knight, but seeing how much fun he must have been having, seeing that wily smile, makes it a none the more fitting goodbye to the man.
The multi-personas also, despite sounding like classically contrived Gilliam, actually turn out to be the most credible part of the movie; they represent the most fascinating of the film's many mediations on reality (Gilliam is always at best when toying with reality, and this is no exception) - different parallels of the human psyche (or at least Tony's) are all challenged, and make for genuinely thought-provoking stuff. The rest of the film, however, is a bit of a patchwork; provocative but hopelessly overwrought. As always with the Brazil director, you can't fault his ambition, but he's always been patently unable to neatly combine all of his ideas into a satisfying whole.
His biggest mistake is going contemporary. Gilliam's sense of humor, being that of a Python affiliate's, has always been well-authenticated by a theatrical and undeniably British zaniness. But here, we get modern social satire in the form of Tony's revamped version of the group's travelling act, and we get conversational verbosity (particularly in the poor improvisation of a pointless Verne Troyer), and it simply doesn't suit. Better are the moments where a group of "violence-loving" coppers dance about in skirts or in the inebriated ramblings of Doctor Parnassus.
Why Gilliam didn't stick to his personal brand of appealing outlandishness is a shame, and a mystery, considering his fine cast of comically-endowed Brits, with glorious thespian Christopher Plummer at its head as the titular Doc. Of all the actors on hand here, Plummer is the one who best excels with the material. Playing a man who has lived over one-thousand years, he manages to convincingly carry himself with the weight of that time, his sallow-skinned and ravaged face, heavy, sad eyes, and world-weary frown scarily naturalistic. He's a heart-breaking character, and Plummer makes him an uncompromising presence.
Also impressive are newcomers Andrew Garfield and Lily Cole, and Tom Waits as Mr Nick, the Devil himself. The notorious singer has never really had any good roles to work with in his career, and, in all fairness, his talents as an actor dictates just as much, but he's simply perfect here, his Machiavelli stealing all the scenes he wonderfully chews with his smarminess. It's not exactly a creation of noteworthy prowess (and neither is the character – the cavalier, smooth-talking, gentleman-like villain, who relishes fomenting, is very overdone), but he's just such a hoot and effortlessly magnetic. He's pretty much the best thing here, and worth the admission price.
Along with the cast, the visuals, a branch you can expect brilliance in with Gilliam, are a real saving grace. The special effects in the Imaginarium aren't extraordinary, but that's the point; it's an accentuated, animated reality – one's greatest dreams (and nightmares) aren't supposed to be realistic. And few images this year are more stirring than of a harrowed Parnassus wandering through a vast snow-plain, giving up his struggle at a crossroad sign that reads "High Road" or "Low Road".
It's a very entertaining movie, and thematically sound (it manages to make existentialism and solipsism accessible), and endearingly whimsical in tone and style. Unfortunately, it frequently degenerates into a muddle, the many ideas it juggles far too incoherently transcended. Thankfully, however, after the monotonous middle act, the movie picks up steam and the great Imaginarium sequences arrive to compel. And, in the end, it's a sheer miracle that the movie got made; the fact that Gilliam didn't give up, that he persevered and single-handedly defeated one of the worst production catastrophes, and that he gave Ledger his swansong, is something truly amazing. And it is for that reason that The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus will be remembered.
Three stars, with a minor minus, out of four.
Posted on 5/13/10 10:05 AM
"Boogie Nights" is one of those films which can be classified a multitude of ways. It can easily be viewed as period piece, a character study, or a social commentary, among other things. Anyway you look at it, it proves to be an effective piece of film-making. A key to this success is the performance of Mark Wahlberg. Watching him make the transformation for clean-cut kid Eddie Adams to porn superstar Dirk Diggler is what keeps the audience invested in the story being told. In the first half of the film, when it's the most crucial, Wahlberg is able to maintain such innocence and charisma and yet seems instantly at home in the new decadent world his character finds himself in. These scenes work greatly to the film's advantage because they are played with such earnestness. Seeing Eddie Adams embark on his new career, we might as well be watching Peggy Sawyer (of "42nd Street") being told she's headed to Broadway. The whole thing just feels so unexpectedly clean, which in turn may be something of a setup for the much darker moments to come.
Admittedly, the rise (in the late 70s) and fall (in the early 80s) of the pornography industry is an area of history we don't learn about in school. But it is a legitimate topic of interest, nonetheless. While it certainly contains humor and a plethora of colorful characters, "Boogie Nights" takes itself seriously. Aside from sex as a business, issues such as race relations, homophobia, and drug abuse, prove vital to the story it is telling. Another overriding theme of the film is the classic notion of fame as a double-edged sword. One heart wrenching plot line involves a porn actress, gently portrayed by the always wonderful Julianne Moore, who is engaged in a custody battle with her estranged husband over their children. The irony here is that throughout the film we have seen how naturally she mothers those around her, and yet she is ultimately deemed unfit to be a mother to her own children. I'm not saying that decision is wrong, but it isn't easy to watch as she's forced to accept it either.
If in fact porn can ever be inspiring, it is something of an inspiration to see the concern the filmmakers within this film put upon themselves for producing a product they can be proud of. They strive to create movies their audiences will appreciate for reasons beyond the sex. We witness their creative process behind James Bond's porno counterpart, Brock Landers, from brainstorming through production. We see the adult industry's equivalent of the Academy Awards ceremony. It is only when we remind ourselves that these people are pornographers does any of this seem the least bit perverse. I strongly feel that this film is in no way trying to glamorize porn. (The ultimate fates of some of its characters are proof enough of that.) I do, however, feel that sometimes we are too quick to demonize based on preconceived notions. The characters we meet here are all consenting adults, engaged in a lucrative business. True, they are flirting with a myriad of dangers. But this film does them a great justice. It allows us to understand the psychology at work behind the choices they make. And it does us a justice too. It lets us choose whether or not we condemn them for it.
Three stars, out of four.
Posted on 5/13/10 09:58 AM
As a kind of cultural globalization takes over world cinema, one should be grateful for directors such as the Hungarian Béla Tarr, the Romanian Cristian Mungiu, the Iranians Abbas Kiarostami and Bahman Ghobadi and the Turkish Nuri Bilge Ceylan who keep alive a personal, regional and stylistically individual form of film-making. Their work is never likely to become widely popular at home or abroad, but they're beacons of hope for the future of a troubled art.
A photographer by profession, Ceylan turned to film-making in the mid-90s and works largely with non-professional actors and small budgets. He belongs in the tradition of Tarkovsky, Bergman, Antonioni, Angelopoulos and other masters that seemed in the 60s and 70s to be on the point of becoming a new or, at least, parallel mainstream but has now been marginalised. His new film, The Three Monkeys, like its two predecessors, won a major award at Cannes, in this case the prize for best director, and it begins with that familiar dramatic device for the creation of tension, guilt and dangerous consequences - the hit-and-run accident.
Here, a man kills a pedestrian at night on a country road. It transpires that he is a politician, Servet, and in order for the event not to affect a forthcoming election he bribes his driver Eyüp, who wasn't with him on this occasion, to take the rap. He'll go on getting paid during his nine-month sentence and at the end will receive a decent pay-off.
The title is a reference to the Sino-Japanese image of the three wise monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, suggesting this film is a moral fable about the consequences of evasion, corruption and suppression. Servet thinks he's doing what's best for his party and the country: he's a supporter of Prime Minister Erdogan and the occasion is the 2007 general election that ended in a landslide victory. Eyüp believes he's acting like a good servant, but, more important, he's getting the money that will get a better home for his handsome wife Hacer and provide for the education of his teenage son Ismail.
Nothing good comes of these actions. One way and another, everyone's life is affected, indeed in some measure destroyed, but like much else in the film the judgments are left to the viewer. Are we dealing with national problems of widespread social corruption, with the weaknesses of a set of individuals or the operation of a malignant fate of a kind that stalks us all? From the start, Ceylan draws us into the very narrative fabric. In the opening scene, using silence, long takes, available light and dramatic compositions, he makes us ask questions about what we are seeing. Who is this man? What has he done? How will he react? There are long gaps in time between individual sequences and seemingly important facts are never made plain.
Ismail comes home with a badly cut hand and a bruised face, but he never reveals to his mother, or to us, whether these wounds came from brawling or from political demonstrations. They have the effect, however, of persuading her to visit the politician and seek an advance on the bribe to buy a car for the boy. This in turn leads to an affair, which is only discovered when Ismail returns home early to find his mother making love to Servet. When Eyüp emerges from jail, he's furious about the car and his suspicions over his wife's infidelity seem confirmed by a message on her cell phone. For most of the film, the images are desaturated, but during the scene of reunion, Hacer is wearing a red slip, which both excites her husband and drives him to violence.
In the family's background is the death of another son, some 15 years earlier, and his father and surviving brother are haunted by visions of this loss. In the future lies a repetition of the incident that launches the film, only here the conspiracy is initiated by Eyüp. Though perhaps not quite as good as Climates, Ceylan's last picture, this is a film of formidable power that sticks in the mind.
Two sequences in particular stand out. In one, the politician rejects the obsessed Hacer with great brutality, but the camera is placed nearly 50 yards away across a field. In the other, the film's closing long shot, the husband stands on the balcony of their ramshackle apartment block to the south of Istanbul, his back to the camera, looking out over the Sea of Marmara as an electric storm begins to stir.
Two stars with a plus, out of four.
Posted on 5/13/10 09:56 AM
I was surprised when Rob Marshall's Chicago took home the Oscar for Best Picture. A great movie but not my choice for best of 2002 (that I would award to Gangs of New York). All that aside, Marshall hasn't done much since. Only one movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, which I for some reason have neglected to see (I try to watch films that win for best cinematography). That's all beside the point. In his third film, Marshall goes back to his theatre roots and tackles another musical.
This time he has chosen Nine, a re-imagining of Federico Fellini's classic film 8 1/2. Already I am skeptical of the situation. I am fine with musicals. Some of the best films on celluloid have been musicals. What I have a problem with is the reworking of such a classic film like 8 1/2. It would take a lot of convincing to win me over. Unfortunately, it did not succeed.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Guido Contini, an Italian director who is planning on making the most important Italian film ever call Italia. The only problem is he hasn't written a script yet. To guide him he turns to the women in his life. His late mother (Sofia Loren), his wife Marion Cotillard, his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his costume designer and closest friend (Judi Dench), a fashion reporter (Kate Hudson), a childhood temptress Saraghina (Stacey "Fergie" Ferguson) and his leading lady (Nicole Kidman).
Contini tries to escape the pressure looming overhead by the media, his producers, and his cast and crew. He is constantly searching for the answer, bouncing around from one person to another. That's really all there is. He talks to people, sleeps around, and goes into his past.
Right off the bat there is a slight problem. There are too many women! Not just for Contini but for the audience. There are too many big name actresses with almost equal parts. Who is more important? Who should we side with? It seems like he has such a close relationship with some of them and hardly any with others, yet they all practically get the same amount of screen time. They all have at least one song to their own.
That is another problem with the film. The musical aspect is distracting from the story. The music for the most part is average. A few songs like "Be Italian" and the Oscar nominated "Take it All" are very good, but for the most part, it's all bells and whistles. Like he did with Chicago, Marshall takes us from the real world of dialogue to the imaginary world of singing and dancing. My issue with this is that he spends an almost equal amount of time in both places. With Chicago, there was more story divulged in the real world. Nine has too much singing and not enough story telling.
The musical numbers are impressive, in particular the two songs I mentioned. Fergie really flexes the golden pipes with "Be Italian," a fun and sexy number that for me was the highlight of the film. Cotillard's number was also one of the better ones. This was a more emotional struggle and was one of the few numbers I felt really connected with the story. Kidman and Cruz each have decent numbers, and Dench's number is a bit over the top. She is better with the real world scenes.
I guess Marshall tried to replicate what he did with Chicago but came up short. I never was invested with any of the characters and Lewis' performance was not quite what I was looking for. I would have loved to have seen Raul Julia, the original Guido Contini from the first Broadway production, or even Antonio Banderas in the revival. I think someone with a more musical background would have been a more acceptable choice, but nevertheless, Lewis does a fairly decent job.
One and a half stars, with a minus, out of four.
Posted on 5/13/10 09:55 AM
I didn't believe for a moment that the "actual footage" in The Fourth Kind was actually actual footage. Surely one would have heard of stories of a relatively unknown filmmaker Olatunde Osunsanmi crafting a docu-drama out of footage from actual alien abductee interviews from some years ago. It should be no surprise that it is just a gimmick to make the story of UFO abduction more credible, which is all well and good. Indeed this wasn't even really the problem in and of itself I had with the movie. It was just that, well, it wasn't a good movie. This may sound like one of the weakest ways to complain about something like a film that took a lot of preparation and acting heft (or not or too much as case turns out), but it is the case here. It's a premise and technique that starts promising, and then without knowing exactly when it just crumbles in self-importance.
It's from the start given the weight of "THIS IS FACT! sort of" as Milla Jovovich comes to tell the audience that she will be playing the part of Dr. Abigail Tyler, and that footage will be shown in the film that is from real-life footage of the real Dr. Tyler from videotaped interviews she had with abducted under hypnosis, and herself interviewed by the director of the film. This is an awful lot of information to give at the front, and it's a sign of things to come: a film that decides it take its subject matter SERIOUSLY as factual, albeit with dramatization, so much so that we see this 'real' actress telling us this.
It's about Tyler, who one night found her husband murdered in her bedroom with a knife through his chest. How did this happen? Did she see or 'feel' someone else in the room? Hypnosis shows this as a vague, terrifying possibility, and she follows up on cases in the small Alaskan town of Nome to interview others who have had nearly identical experiences. Every night a snow owl is outside the window, and somehow 'comes in' to the bedroom, and then... well, no one can seem to remember, or really that there is nothing to remember due to their intended to be forgetful from the "fourth kind" experience. Dr. Tyler can't come to any other conclusion than it, despite protest from her fellow psychologist (Koetas), and soon digs up some research on Sumerian language and that the horrific dialog heard on an audio tape recording shows dialog from Sumeria. Freaky.
The approach, at first, seems that it is original and with some daring. The idea is to combine scenes ala Woodstock- split-screens as a scene is happening simultaneously- and create a perspective of reality filtering into the fictional representation. It's interesting, for the first twenty minutes. But unfortunately this method doesn't hold up. The director means for the audience to take alien abduction seriously, and it's not something he really needs to go to too far lengths to do, though he clutters his serious approach with self-seriousness and a hyper-style that calls attention to itself in some practically laughable ways (at least that was the reaction of the audience I was with, I was more dumbfounded and shell-shocked after a while).
There are examples littered throughout the film. One is the approach to the owls. Why do owls appear? What's the connection? This ambiguity isn't so bad, but the way Osunsanmi approaches it with his camera is precious, with lighting that is of that blue-crap tint and with some spliced-in footage of owls every so often just to give an unnecessary jolt. One other is a small scene where we're shown some artifacts from Sumerian culture. At first this just looks like one of those scenes from a hacky science-fiction TV show on alien abduction or something, and then Osunsanmi just goes all nutty with how he shoots it, with strobe lights going all over the place and creating a whiplash feel that is just wrong for this portion of the film.
And lastly it's the whole approach to Dr. Tyler as a character that bothers one. Jovovich does what she can as an actress, and to her credit she has some affecting scenes here as a mother of two who is trying to hold on to her principles as a doctor, hard evidence but lacking in just the kind of case that needs it to dissuade a dissatisfied sheriff (Will Patton), and ultimately her character becomes one note: INTENSE FEAR! She fares better than the 'other' woman who if you believe the story and the footage (aka hoax) is really Dr. Tyler, interviewed by the director on her experience, who is slabbed with bad make-up and mugs her way through an at-best hysterical turn. Towards the end, just as it's supposed to be most stirring, it gets cringe-worthy, especially as the filmmaker/Jovovich tells us (not asks us) outright: decide for yourself based on this. Yeah, it's just a movie, thanks, no matter what we really think of aliens.
This split in the two/one character(s), of a dramatic and harrowing dramatization of a story, and of interviews with this woman and her as-happened clips with distorted video and audio punctuating the abduction bits, don't mesh together well enough to justify the movie on the whole. It might have made a fascinating short film, but even at 93 minutes it over-stays its welcome and doesn't blow one away with surprises (indeed a scene late in the film showing a 'recreation' of a drill-probe had me and a friend chuckling at exactly the wrong moment). The director could have decided, either to make a solid *drama* that might appear to be based on a real case (i.e. Fargo) but isn't, or make a documentary ala the recent Paranormal Activity or to an extent District 9. As it stands, if you saw the (somewhat misleading) trailer, you saw it all.
Two stars with a minus, out of four.
Posted on 5/13/10 09:53 AM
It has been a long time since I have seen a comic duo form a better shtick than Robert DeNiro and Billy Crystal in the mob comedy "Analyze This," a smart, amusing satire from director Harold Ramis ("Multiplicity," "Groundhog Day"). For a movie like this to succeed past a commercial level, chemistry between the main characters must be amiable and spirited. Crystal and DeNiro indeed mold amiable incentive between themselves, therefore quite a few hilarious moments emerge from their perception of the well-written script by Kenneth Lonergan, Peter Tolan, and Ramis himself.
"Analyze This" details the lives of two very different individuals. The first person is played by Billy Crystal, a calm, cool, and collected psychiatrist named Ben Sobol, who is divorced with a young teenage son and is engaged to soon wed a resigning TV reporter named Laura MacNamara (Lisa Kudrow). Ben is currently dealing with a emotional patient (Molly Shannon) distressed because her spouse left and filed a restraining order on her. This woman's problems will seem like nothing when Ben obtains his new client.
Robert DeNiro plays the second person this movie examines, the most powerful mobster in the city of New York, Paul Vitti. He and his accomplices, including a chubby and clumsy bodyguard named Jelly (Joe Viterelli), are in the process of significant business when Vitti experiences an anxiety attack. On the road to a nervous breakdown, this emotionally vulnerable man comes to Ben after Jelly briefly encounters the therapist during a minor car accident. Ben is very nervous with his new patient, who forces compliments and demands upon him.
The first confrontation sequence between Ben and Paul is quite engaging. There is an instant odd couple chemistry among the two characters. The witty sessions Sobol and Vitti consummate are also very imaginative and smart. The scenes also have the intelligence to take Vitti's emotional problems seriously.
The setup accurately introduces both the gangsters and the psychiatrist's family. We understand the mob boss's feelings of stress and depression; this picture is not all shallow slapstick comedy, there is a dimensional human touch. The film takes its conflicts seriously, but executes them in a cute humorous style. The audience can also relate to Billy Crystal's character, who is an average Joe with a typical American family in a complicated situation in which he is not entirely sure how to handle.
Both external and internal conflicts are interestingly accomplished, well structured, presented, and written. The film does a good job of convincingly bringing the world of mobsters to life with well-cast actors and their rich, stylish accents.
Paul Vitti's sexual life needed more exploration; although his adulterous intentions do induce a few laughs, the story could have gone somewhere with his infidelity. Vitti's family is also irresolute. The film almost never portrays them on screen and seldom does Paul himself discuss his children and wife. The Lisa Kudrow character is furthermore underwritten, never thoroughly examined and very shallow. The lack of chemistry amid Kudrow and Crystal leads to the unconvincing relationship Ben occupies.
Robert DeNiro is the perfect option for the comic role of Paul Vitti, who is a more difficult character than it may appear. DeNiro triggers a sharp comic edge and gives the right amount of exaggerated sentimentality to Vitti. Lisa Kudrow is fun to watch, producing a dim-minded character whimsically similar to the one in her hit TV sitcom "Friends." Chazz Palminteri and Joe Viterelli contribute different but energetic supporting roles.
"Analyze This" is unmistakably the right kind of movie for Billy Crystal. I am unaware of another Hollywood comedian who could have conquered his role with more proficiency and mirth; he is one of the main components that makes "Analyze This" work well. Harold Ramis's comedy obviously borrows ideas from past comparable films like "Grosse Point Blank" and "Mafia," but as this production proves, just because it was done before doesn't mean it cannot be successfully accomplished again with the right casting.
Three stars with a minor minus, out of four.
Posted on 4/15/10 09:17 AM
I taped this film years ago when it was first released and thought I had lost it; this morning, however, I found it and watched, what I believe to be, the finest documentary I have ever seen. I sat mesmerised by the fabulous photography and marveled at the beauty of life on this rock that we call home. Of course this life is ugly and unfair because we are ugly and unfair and this fabulous film displays both. Baraka, as opposed to the negative IMDb commentators who have ponderously and pretentiously argued, is not trying to move the viewer to any social or political viewpoint; rather it is simply showing with brilliant cinematography and editing the complete panoply of human life as it is.
The themes examined were not over-drawn or designed to set the viewer on any particular intellectual path; however, they were signposts of various human activities that are dominant in our life: war, religion in its many forms, human decoration, occupations in their many forms--in short Life on Earth. Call me stupid or naive or a dupe but the film was just a collection of what we are and how we try to maintain ourselves while we are alive. This maintenance involves just some of those themes listed above: the monkey celebration from Bali, the cremations on the banks of the Ganges, the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey, deactivated bombers sitting on an Arizonan airfield, iron ore blasting in Australia, gold/diamond excavations in Brazil, electronics assembly in China. Like human life, some good and some bad.
Why should people seek out this brilliant film and use their valuable time to watch it? Because it is a film of beautiful images of our life on this planet. The images are, unusually, not just of western life but of human life in general. I do not, as some commentators believe, think that the director's selection was trite; it was as it is. Good or bad, it is our rock and he photographed its inhabitants brilliantly. If there's any movie that should be broadcasted in space, this is it.
Four stars, out of four.
Posted on 4/15/10 09:14 AM
In 1932, a group of socialites, landowners, Americans and their servants arrive at a country house for a shooting party over the weekend. As the relationships and tensions twist and weave upstairs, so too do the dynamics and relationships between the various house staff and valets below the stairs. Stories and characters play out but whenever a murder takes place, the police move in and everyone is a suspect.
My plot summary suggests that this is a sort of murder mystery and that this will act as the driving force behind the narrative, however this is not the case and in reality the film is much more about the characters and relationships than it is about the murder. To this end the film will annoy some people who are perhaps not used to the sort of film that Altman produces and will be looking for the mystery aspect to be the all. However, I found the rather free-wheeling ensemble approach to be very enjoyable and the first hour moved quickly by thanks to the natural interactions and relationships and it was actually the mystery aspect that didn't work as well because it required too sudden a change in pace – a change that the material seemed to resist and hamper. Despite this it does still work mainly because the Oscar winning writing brings out such convincing relationships and social politics, making it enjoyable and interesting throughout. The direction is great; the use of two cameras in group scenes means that the actors seem to flow around as naturally as their dialogue would suggest – few seem forced to act to a fixed point and seem more realistic.
Considering the talent on board, it is not surprising that nobody really upstages anyone in particular and the ensemble feel is strong. Smith, Gambon, Thomas, Dance, Northam, Balaban and others make the upstairs fizzle with snobbery and unspoken resentments. Meanwhile the downstairs staff are just as well drawn and delivered by Mirren, Owen, Jacobi, Watson, Bates, Grant, Atkins and others. Stephen Fry is fairly minor within the plot but he is delightfully comic, even if he doesn't quite fit into the film that well.
Overall this is a classy film very much in the Altman style – an ensemble piece of characters and relationships that we are left to drift within. Some viewers will find it frustrating that it takes so long to get to the point where the mystery kicks in but I actually found this to be the weaker aspect of the film and the most enjoyable parts were the well written characters and dialogue, which deservedly won Fellowes his Oscar.
Three and a half stars, with a minor minus, out of four.
Posted on 4/15/10 09:13 AM
Roman Polanski's first English language Repulsion is a tour de force of direction, framing and acting, especially from the then 22-year-old French star, Catherine Deneuve, who brings a sterile intensity to her role as the increasingly deranged and psychotic Carole, who lives with her older sister in a spooky rented flat in 1960s Kenisngton. Carole is a curious mixture of coldness and vulnerability and Deneuve manages to successfully imbue her role with these very qualities. In contrast to her sister who's having an affair with a married man, Carole shuns male interest and increasingly becomes lost in a nightmarish world of hallucinations and a rotting rabbit.
The claustrophobic atmosphere of the film is a sight to behold and is genuinely unnerving and disturbing. The flat becomes the locus of Carole's mental disintegration and Polanski makes full use of the walls, floors and windows as signifiers of Carole's condition.
What I found disappointing was the refusal of Polanski to provide a back-story for Carole's anxiety and repulsion. There are many suggestions why Carole is the way she is, but we are never given a grain of truth to let us empathise with her plight. Perhaps this was part of Polanski's agenda? In doing so, Carole is objectified, devoid of true sympathy. Her descent into murderous psychosis seems at odds with the seemingly sweet, naive girl depicted in the opening scenes. The ending shot of the family photo, though clever, is also rather shallow and prefigures Polanski's later preoccupation with amorality and evil. Carole becomes the dehumanised, demonised 'other'; separating herself from her family with that demolish, possessed gaze. Yet these are minor gripes in a intense film.
Three stars, out of four.