His Dark Materials
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As a film, "The Help" is obvious and dull; as a social statement, it's toothless and pandering. Images of race and the struggle for civil rights will always be powerful, but the film doesn't earn their power, instead resorting to manipulative kitsch. In "The Help," racism is depicted as a bygone problem, not a complex issue we continue to wrestle today. As a result, viewers aren't challenged to take a harder look at racism in their own lives, but rather given a pat on the back for living vicariously through the plucky "Skeeter" (Emma Stone), who is the deliverer of the black women's salvation. Even strong performances (especially by Viola Davis, who would be this film's heart, if it had one) can't bolster characters this broadly drawn - the racist ladies couldn't have been more cartoonishly evil if they'd been given moustaches to twirl. Moreover, racism as portrayed by "The Help" is not a hurtful act capable of great harm, but is rather to be avenged with schoolyard pranks and gossip. "The Help" is so far out of touch, it feels like an issue film from the era it portrays: well-intentioned, but cringe-worthy.
Lars Von Trier has made no secret of his life-long bouts with depression, and this film may be the closest thing to evidence of a mind that truly understands the depths to which we can sink. Each character (all anchored by remarkable performances, not the least of which is Dunst's) represents a different facet of depression, and the film strikes an uneasy balance between the destruction such feelings can sow and the unpleasant notion that they perhaps prepare us for our inevitable fate. Despite the apocalyptic sci-fi premise, this film is concerned entirely with the private lives of its characters - no international drama or alien's-eye view of humanity's extinction is to be seen. If anything, it feels like an inverse Tree of Life, searching, perhaps in vain, for a greater meaning in the Earth's end. Von Trier's direction feels more restrained than usual here, but while the film moves often at a snail's pace, its slow build culminates in an unshakable conclusion. Available now, before it hits theaters, on both iTunes and Xbox Live, Melancholia is absolutely worth spending a contemplative evening.
Heavyweight performances from an all star team of character actors and big stars alike make this a must-see, as does Clooney's classical eye as director. While the political intrigue may feel a bit warmed-over, and the pervasive cynicism about corruption's nesting doll spread in government may seem tautologous, the suspense (over just who will do what to whom, and when, and how) never lets up.
A thrillingly minimalist modern noir with a killer soundtrack. Gosling plays the kind of stoic hero every man would like to envision himself. The action scenes are shot with a clarity and nail-biting sense of suspense that's rare these days. Unflinchingly violent, dually classical and fresh, Drive is not to be missed.
Cronenberg and Fiennes allegedly declined to take payment just in order to get the money together to get this film made, and that passion shows onscreen in this intimate portrayal of a young boy's complicated relationship with his parents, burgeoning sexuality, and the tragedy that turns him into a broken, schizophrenic man. As pop psychology it may be a bit too pat, but the assured directing and a hypnotic performance by Fiennes make this intimate little gem well worth watching.