Korean director Kim Ji-woon is a great filmmaker. See his "The Good, the Bad, & the Weird" for a seriously funny rush of Leone swagger and Tarantino splatter. Then check "I Saw the Devil", whose soul and violent lyricism was lost on many critics as exploitative kitsch, in telling the tale of a cop who stared hell in the face and tried to break it. Kim may have blurred the line between good and evil, but he did anything but tow it.
"The Last Stand", his American debut, sounds like fun -- Arnold Schwarzenegger as a winded Los Angeles cop-turned-Arizona sheriff whose hick border town's defenses are tested after an escaped drug lord comes barreling toward the safety of Mexico. Good and evil is again questioned as everyone from a cookie-cutter FBI temper trap played by Forest Whitaker to old ladies in window shop rocking chairs are all quick to pull the trigger on trouble. It's in good fun, and tailored to laughs, but, and I hate to be this guy, but in the wake of recent firearm-related national tragedies, "The Last Stand" really isn't doing cinema any favors in biting the bullet when it comes to blame. Kim's visual style is there -- a great opening tracking shot, live-wire action set-pieces, the film's chronological twelve-hour structure -- but the rest of "The Last Stand" -- excluding a game Arnie -- is a pandersome bore. Kim deserves better.
"Before Sunset" -- maybe even more than "Before Sunrise" prior to it -- is one of the few films I've maybe ever seen that's so honest and joyful it blatantly defies criticism or definition. Each work is something special, "Sunrise's" in-the-moment romance sans any technological distractions, "Sunset's" nine-years-in-the-making morning-after. Both constant conversations of celluloid of which you feel every minute, in the absolute best possible way.
I'm spoiled seeing "Sunset" only a day after watching its predecessor for the first time. I wonder what'd it be like to live your own life for nine years after making such an identification with these characters, and then coming back to them. That's maybe the greatest pleasure of "Before Sunset": it so wondrously REMEMBERS American traveler Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Frenchwoman Celine (Julie Delpy, even more beautiful now than ever before. Well, "now" being 2004. Let me just...punch her name into Google along with "2013"....)
And oh my God, I know I say it a lot with things, but it hurts. Really, you can watch "Sunrise" and "Sunset" back to back and still perfectly sense the years of nostalgia and remembrance between these two people. And by playing the film out in eighty sun-kissed, lyrical Paris minutes director Richard Linklater (as well as Hawke and Delpy, with whom he wrote the script) lets every inch of "Before Sunset" breathe on its own and speak for itself, like a newborn unto the world. It's a mystical place, full of regrets, but at least they'll always have Vienna.
"Prestigious" is not exactly the term I'd use in describing "The Paperboy". ("Precious", now, that's something completely different. Come on, it was right there.) Prestigious would imply "The Paperboy" is, well, trying to pass off its filth and camp as top-of-the-line art. It isn't.
Of course, that doesn't mean it ISN'T art. I'd much rather see a movie that tries and fails than that doesn't try at all. Lee Daniels' film is dirty, nasty and all-out pornographic in parts. And I liked it. Does it fumble the ball more than once? Yeah. Does its blatant racism TOTALLY pass for satire of the time and not rolling-in-the-mud exploitation? Hell no. But "The Paperboy" gets a bad rep. Sure, Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron and Matthew McConaughey is whipped to a pulp by two men in a sleazy motel room. Get off your high horse. There's power in its directness if you can see past the shameless plasticity.
Oh, there will certainly be blood marked against "The Loneliest Planet" from audiences wanting the perfect getaway of Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) -- visiting Georgia the summer before getting hitched -- to come attached with more, preferably pulpier strings. Praise Julia Loktev's film all you'd like -- poignant, original, shockingly cognizant -- it's not for everybody. Hold on; I never said worthless. It's tough not to read into this art house wanderlust of pastoral imagery concerning the pain of passage, instinct, and what it means to be human, especially with two actors at the helm who couldn't be more open and engaged. Sleepy but never bored, one could call "The Loneliest Planet"; alive with the kind of kick you get from dreams where the water's too cold or distant mountain too high. But something's definitely up.
What gives the second half of this movie its honesty, darkness and gritty charm is a moment-long hot flash that seems like forever, because it's the first time Alex and Nica shot together has a joint feeling of watching two naked people scared and alone left to their own devices. It's some of the most quietly devastating film 2012 can shake a stick at, in a beautifully realized work that should be noted and appreciated both for its narrative invention and reflection on the difficulty of relationships. "The Loneliest Planet" brims dizzily with idea and understanding -- unforgettable, irreversible, and that haunts like no other.
You don't have to be in love for "Before Sunrise" to hit and hurt. And it does, plenty. It's a celebration of impulse and ambition, a Kiarostami-like rumination on love and relationships, and that muses and wanders its dreamy little head into the pantheon of cinema as something true, changing and affirming.