Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No Country For Old Men


An old-timer sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) follows the trail of a psychopath assassin(Javier Bardem), while Moss (Josh Brolin), the everyman hero, tries with all his might to hold on to the drug money he accidentally found while hunting in the desert; the formula of Moss chasing the money, the assassin chasing Moss (a few more hit men chasing Moss & the assassin) all set the sheriff up perfectly to recite (with deep meaning) my favorite verse from the Bible - the more you try to hold onto something, the more you will lose it.

But the austere photography, dense plotting, the gorgeously and subtly grating score, understated performance and impeccably paced movement across the wasteland of Texas do not point toward the clarity of a single proverb; in fact only one character in the film knows any sort of purity, and in the end, the only kernel of hope is all but eclipsed by the darkness of moral ambiguity.

Mrs. Brown


This period piece nails each by-the-book convention of the costume-drama genre: lush landscapes (the Scottish Highlands), patiently conveyed formalities of the aristocratic class, lavish wealth articulated through artful props and costumes, and British actors suppressing loads of emotion. Most admirable here is the focus on the unlikely (historically confirmed) relationship between Queen Victoria and her rogue highlander servant, John Brown; the two gain great satisfaction from each other's vigor and honesty, and while her life grows richer at the expense of his increasing devotion to her, we leave convinced that the wealth of their friendship transcends any other wealth articulated in the film.

The Passenger



A reporter weary of his life chooses to abandon his own life in favor of the life of another; the same weariness finds him again and threatens to defeat him. Though his journey through the Italian countryside with a beautiful, spirited, and game woman offers all kinds of adventure and possibility, the only acceptable ending for Antonioni is an inconclusive, and off-topic ellilpis...

+++1/2

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Deliciously Photographed Interiors

Wong Kar Wai's 2046

Wong Kar Wai's In The Mood For Love

Wong Kar Wai's Happy Together

Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice

Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums

In America

Blowup


(already reviewed once)

Thomas, the lead character of the film, remains the spine of meaning despite the plots insistence on genre defying conventions (an inappropriately long first act, several macguffins litter the story, and an ending that rewards the first act in a way that almost shrugs off the action of the second act). He wins at least a few moments of self awareness from the bizarre events of the film: he understands that his obsessions with decadence and self-promotion have eroded his ability to say anything truly important to those immediately surrounding him, he understands that his own vision/perception (the thing he trusts most as a photographer) may not only be faulty (since his first perception of the moments on the ridge were peaceful perceptions) but may in fact create realities themselves (the gun? the body? the face in the bushes?); all questions that we, the viewers are implicated in, in the final shot just before "THE END" announces the film's completion.

++++

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Helvetica



While the interviews with designers, historians and cultural critics felt like a delightful grad seminar on steroids, the real beauty of the film came in the stunning montage sequences. Finding helvetica in real life allows the filmmakers to make beautiful visual points about the ways that fonts are and are not transparent, are and are not coercive, are and are not manipulated by designers, printers, advertisers, CEOs & government officials.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Superbad


This flick doesn't flinch at being derivative, instead it takes tropes from other R-rated comedies and holds onto them a little longer than we'd expect, but not longer than we enjoy. Strong performances give heart to this mish-mash of genres and tropes (the buddy movie, the sexual coming-of-age movie, keystone cops foibles & the end-of-high-school John Hughes specialty), the tender moment near the ending when the filmmakers manage to both bracket and exploit all the homoerotic subtext and yet sustain one of the most sincere moments of intimacy in the genre.

+++1/2

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hot Fuzz


A masterfully written, directed, acted & filmed comic cop caper that cleverly combines the genres of buddy movie, fish out of water, and a conspiracy afoot. The film mines every comic possibility available (from slapstick to deadpan, from irony to pun, from mixed identity to old school stereotyping) but handles the main characters with such truth that we're absolutely encouraged to laugh with not at the "good guys" and while all the villains grow increasingly arch, they're all wrapped in such scathing statements of social satire that we're really laughing at their social roles and institutions, not them particularly.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Marie Antoinette



I believe Coppola's film functions as more than a third-wave feminist re-construction of a much-maligned historical figure, I found this movie to be a brilliant social critique. Very intimate cinematography paired with a hyperbolist's sense of STYLE help bring us gradually close to a version of Marie who could not possibly be culpable for her excess -- her world is so indulgent and insular that her privilege seems natural; so, in the dark final moments, when we feel torn by our empathy for her and our understanding of how severely her privilege has cost other people -- we, in the top ten percent of the world's wealth, with the most lavish, decadent lifestyle on the planet -- *must* feel implicated in her sin -- our decadent lives are premised on just the same sorts of insular, self-absorbed indulgence as Marie.

++++

Modern Times



The structure of this classic weaves together visual jokes, narrative repetition and episodic humour in a style that no longer exists in cinema, but toward a social critique of forces that seem more familiar and contemporary than bygone and irrelevant. The forces of mechanization, industrialization, the depersonalization of the workforce, the collective aspiration toward upward mobility, the obsession with material consumption, and the obsession with romantic consummation all seem as topical as they were in the 30s; only now the formal elements of non-sync sound and black and white film make the picture seem like a chillingly prescient parable about the definitive sisyphusian trajectory for American Culture.

+++1/2

The Secret of Photo 51



This documentary about Rosalind Franklin, the pioneering female scientist whose pivotal photograph of the structure of DNA earned some greedy, thieving male colleagues a Nobel Prize and her? nothing -- works not because of its innovative approach to filmmaking; the formal elements hit by the numbers marks and read like a standard made-for-PBS-film. The story works because of the compelling themes, conflicts and ideas it evokes for the serious viewer.

+++

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Thank You For Smoking


A tobacco lobbyist, blinded by hubris, is fooled by a reporter and puts Big Tobacco at risk; when he loses his job, only his son can remind him of his true talent / conceit -- his ability to make an argument -- which saves his neck and lets him escape the whole shenanigan with nary a scratch. While I enthusiastically loved the way that this film was shot, felt that the performances were both true and engaging, I found the writing to be laboriously expositional and not driven forward through the fundamental element of dramatic writing -- conflict.

++1/2

Monday, November 05, 2007

Old Joy


This quiet cinematic meditation on old friendships feels much more than it says; the camerawork celebrates the closeup and the slow sculpting of time in forests, on roadtrips and in conversation. The filmmaking is both masterful and effortless and very content to be discreet in the claims it makes on our attention and toward any truth.

++++

I can imagine a tagline: all the feeling of SIDEWAYS, none of the plot.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Knocked Up


In some ways this venture could be a sequel to or a cousin of 40 Year Old Virgin, but that's not to suggest that this installment is hackneyed or cliched by any means; I found the performances to be surprisingly subtle, many scenes moved in interesting directions and the characters, while downloading their templates straight out of popular culture formulas, manage to infuse the stereotypes with life and truth. Production employs standard Hollywood conventions to maintain invisibility and push the story, themes and performances to the fore, and while Act Three was too tepid, rote and un-earned for my tastes, it didn't feel offensive and it was executed well.

+++1/2

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Time Regained


While I have only started to read Proust, my sense thus far is that this film is a faithful adaptation (no small task given the monumental, rambling ruminations of Things Remembered), though I am not confident that those who loved the book will love the movie. The nonlinear structure, the dream-like mise en scene, and the dependence upon gradually cyclically returning motifs demand patient, generous viewing which may require not only a love of Proust's themes (of memory, love, loss, betrayal, bells, light, and carefully manicured settings), but also a well trained cinephile's eye.

+++1/2

Monday, October 29, 2007

Hairspray


This fun, energetic, popcorn movie propels its capable cast and delightfully digested (and digestible) sermon-of-a-story through a tightly constructed coming-of-age competition flik that seems to be about race and size, but admirably slips in more subversive messages about sex and gender. John Waters' hilarious and brief cameo at the beginning reminded me to ponder the ways in which an ultra-campy B-movie becomes mainstream fair after twenty years; an impressive viral strategy for pop culture domination *and* subversive messages about tolerance.

+++1/2

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited



Francis Whitman invites his brothers Jack & Peter on a journey into the heart of India with the explicit goal of reconnecting as brothers and having a spiritual epiphany, and the journey Anderson takes us on wisely avoids mining the past, trusting instead the particulars of the journey to illuminate the contours of these brothers' relationships. All of Anderson's tropes fit comfortably into a tourists' version of India, and the thematic concerns of the film (grief, forgiveness and release) are profoundly articulated in the best way imaginable: unexpected before the experience, inevitable as we look back.

+++++

(p.s. I didn't think I'd think so, but Kudos for the way HOTEL CHEVALIER worked with the film.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Lives of Others



Stasi agent Wiesler listens to the lives of a playwright and his girlfriend actress and discovers how his efficient, effective, party-loyal life has left him soulless and friendless, a sense that returns to him subtly and with nuance as he listens. The intimacy and affection of watching someone watch others, and particularly those whose lives have leaned toward truth because of the art they make, feels both rewarding like an unexpected admirer and like a parable about how the best sort of watching (movie watching even?) can redeem our own paltry insufficient worlds.

+++++

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Soul Food


I watched this movie for sociological reasons than aesthetic ones, and it fulfilled those goals: articulating black family culture in terms of roles, food, jobs, matriarchy, upward mobility and overdetermined societal obstacles. The performances were solid, the art direction was beautiful, but the script was so trite and the music so sentimental that I was constantly being bumped away from the good things that were happening on screen.

++ 1/2

Monday, October 15, 2007

Once



An Irish busker and an overburdened czech immigrant live in heavy shadows of relationships recently lost, the respect and affection they give and receive for one another's music yields more than they or we could expect. The diegesis of this film feels perfect (the natural light, very human-feeling camera work, cramped tiny spaces and crowded public spaces) for conveying the kind of unexpected and delightful intimacy that music (and art? and film? and love?) can bring.

++++1/2

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Shaun of the Dead


Who could have guessed that combining a standard rom-com with a zombie flick would yield such light-hearted, yet emotionally complex comedy!? The joi de'vivre of the cinematography, the effortless and sincere performances and the extraordinary plotting made this comedy all fun and no pain despite all the gory disembowelling that went on.

+++1/2

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Pirates of the Carribean: At Worlds End


I feel dirty after watching a pandering, money-grubbing movie like this one; if the East India Company and their collusion with the British Empire are the real pirates, then Disney and her collusion with Bruckheimer is the evillest of all evil. Thin characters & non-sensical and complex plot lines are taxed far beyond their breaking (/boredom) point with the heavy burden of overwhelming locations, costumes, special effects and violence.

+

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ten Canoes


Ten Canoes is a story wrapped in a story wrapped in a story, the wrappings are woven so thick and the stories go so deep, that I wasn't sure by the end whether we had found our way to the core of something so submerged that we couldn't even remember the trajectory into this place? or whether we had just finally found our way to the surface of a river so deep that no one could ever swim back down....(in other words, I found the structure and form of this film as entrancing as the characters, dialogue and plot). Certain stories invite me to reimagine the possibilities of filmic storytelling and better yet the contours of my life, and the way that simple mundane stories about brothers, desire, bickering and loss develop such resonance through this artful narrative restores much of my hope about the value of small local stories and the hope that faithfulness in a small inobtrusive life can be steeped in significance.

++++

Monday, September 03, 2007

Dodgeball



When I saw the first arch-sneer tone that set-up the first ten minutes of this film (what with Vince Vaughn's ragtag band of caricheture followers, Ben Stiller's monumentally over-the-top satire of contemporary image-obsessed workout gurus, the girl-next-door attitude + hollywood-glamour-shots combo of the lawyer/girlfriend character, yet played off of Vaughn's deadpan, straight-man slob-with-a-heart leading man) I was convinced I would hate it as much as I hate all comedies that pander for big laughs by encouraging their audiences to laugh AT not WITH the characters. Once I made peace with this (conventional-but-no-less-loathsome-for-being-so) tone, I found myself really enjoying the film; the conventional structure of the underdog-team-makes-good pic helped resolve the one-note punchlines of the various characters into narrative arcs that bordered on comic-reward, Jason Bateman's announcer was understated and ridiculous in perfect balance, and the seemingly-impossible-to-redeem gender & sexuality jokes even got paid off in a satisfying way.

+++

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mon Oncle


I haven't enjoyed a movie this much and in this way since I first watched Charlie Chaplin; the physical comedy and the (conventional yet delightful) structure of the jokes were hilarious and often unexpected. To make matters better, the rigorous critique of the upwardly mobile upper middle class was so incredibly topical and freshly applicable to our contemporary Martha-Stewart-meets-Trading-Spaces times, that I was shocked into recognizing much more consonance between our current decade and the 1950s than I would have dreamed possible.

++++1/2

Monday, August 06, 2007

.08


This short documentary about a seemingly ordinary boy named Victor works best visually for the first third of the film, and continues to be engaging even after the big reveal 1/3 of the way in because of the way the visual device functions. The film leans into a sentimental tone eventually and really goes south when it veers toward Make-A-Wish-ish moments.

+++

watch it

BLACK BUTTON


A nice premise and good production values makes this moral tale both engaging and enjoyable. The script could be edited to be shorter and less on-the-nose.

watch it.

+++

The Bourne Ultimatum


While I loved the hyperkinetic visual style and the simple-yet-tense narrative thread, this installment of the franchise seemed the most topical (in an almost embarrassing way), the least motivated (not that the motivation wasn't a good one, it just felt a bit more abstracted from the plot), the most likely to veer into stereotypical and demeaning tropes about women and minorities (sure Landy and Nicki Parsons are cool, strong women, but what exactly motivates their action in this movie? other than vaguely matronly and mooning obsession with Bourne?), and the least carefully constructed (tedious narrative threads about Marie, are both too-on-the-nose and utterly unhelpful in the structure of the story). I hope it doesn't sound like I didn't enjoy the movie, because I did; the thrill-ride style and super-subjective visual approach was enough to make me giggle, grunt and pump my fist in the theatre.

+++

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Rize


The devotion of the dancers to their form, and the skill with which they dance -- transcend the many visual and narrative missteps of the filmmakers -- and make the film worth watching despite its structural and visual sloppiness. The story is never assured in adopting a vignette approach to the various dancers story, a classical battle of talents tale or a sweeping over-arching narrative that encompasses the many characters and storylines; the traditional documentary style juxtaposed with heavily directed and carefully lit sequences of Krumping within the proscenium is awkward embarrassing, but the dancing always makes it worthwile.

+++

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The History Boys


While I enjoyed it as much as I'll enjoy most coming of age dramas (which is alot), and thought that it was mostly well executed (only slightly ill at ease with cinematic conventions like the transitional music montage), my biggest complaint of the history boys has to do with the medium's goodness of fit and implicit class politics / economics that animate the story. I'd argue that most theatre goers can at least sympathize with a group of middle classers who want to rise through the ranks via an ivy league education, but that the cineplex audience doesn't share the sentiment: indeed, I found myself (an ambitious-as-hell-midwestern-middle-classer-who-wanted-to-rise-with-my-intellect) siding with the masses against the ambitions of these boys and their teachers.

+++

Sunday, July 22, 2007

La Strada



Fellini's tragicomic masterpiece that follows an ill-at-ease comic genius of a woman through an unbearable cycle of abuse, embodies cinematic storytelling at its best: simple storytelling, wonderful characters, a unique world and profound emotion. A part of me wishes that I could have seen the film when it premiered so I could have better understood how its inflection of cinematic grammar affected the story, on the other hand, seeing it from so far a vantage point provides that deeply reassuring sense that there are ways that we can understand one another across the chaos and misunderstanding that characterizes a world full of change and difference.

++++1/2

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

EUGENE

This highly stylized, mostly silent comic look at an orderly young man and his even-more-orderly mother, focuses on the death of the family chicken and the arrival of magic through the chicken's former egg basket. Visually, the film is very nicely executed, however the story is not only unclear, but also emotionally disappointing; more than anything, a film like this needs music...

++1/2

(short. 9 min.)

available here

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Mirror


I've found reading Tarkovsky's _Sculpting In Time_ while watching his oevre to be both pleasurable and enriching -- until now. I found Mirrors *personal tone* to be indulgent and solipsistic and its attempts to be a *memory* piece to be alternately obtuse and overly nostalgic; all might have been saved with a good ending (like The Sacrifice), but no such experience for me.

++

The Painted Veil


This conventional, beautifully filmed, emotionally honest costume drama may have suffered from an overly simplistic imbalance of forces and a spot-on preachy ending with an uplift. But those liabilities didn't erode the power of the performances nor the effective narrative pacing that imbued the story with grace and power.

+++1/2

The Break Up


Another welcome innovation on the rom-com formula, once again, skewing toward the male demographic by courting the potty-mouthed, frat-boy-fun R rating (a la 40 y/o virgin and wedding crashers. Movies like this one encourage me to say: "See! Forumulaic, mainstream movies can be good! Innovative! Hilarious! Emotionally True! Character Driven!" until the third act when something -- either the formula or the innovations it attempts -- causes the writers and directors to stumble to a contrived, embarrassing half-assed resolution that'll leave 'em feeling numb (or in my case, disappointed).

+++1/2

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sophie's Choice



While I usually prefer economy of adaptation over epic faithfulness to a novel, very few of the minutes of this film felt superflous. An emotionally honest coming of age story which elects to employ the narrative devices of a narrator too young and naieve and a present-day love story too complex and convoluted in order to mask the real narrative and ethical spine of the story which all turn on (of course) Sophie's choice; only the weight of a long novelistic adaptation could imbue appropriate weight to the question that lingers with the viewer -- Can any of us continue with our everyday lives if we look with honesty at what we are guilty of?

++++

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Midnight Cowboy



A dimwitted, goodhearted southern boy arrives in New York to make a living hustling; his dim wits trump his eager enthusiasm and he's soon down on his luck and grateful to be invited to stay with Rizzo, a closeted, squatting-in-a-condemned-building, small-time-crook; the film patiently follows them as their friendship becomes a sustaining grace in a hostile and relentless world. I loved the film's visual style and the regular divergences into dreams, fantasies and memories; the script, the performances, the direction, the art direction, the music and the cinematography work together to make this just the kind of film I like.

++++1/2

High Noon


Just after a marshall marries a quaker (twenty years his junior) and trades his badge in for a honeymoon and a life in a general store, he receives word that a hardened criminal is on his way back to town -- probably to take over and get even with the marshall; in 80something minutes of real time, the marshall must deputize a posse to stand against the towns old blackguard, and the only thing he's successful at raising is awareness about how many grudges and how much self-interest define the fabric of this ungrateful crummy town. If I were a fan of Westerns, I'd've loved this one, even though I'm not, I could appreciate the ways it responded to the genre and the social milieu.

+++1/2

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Undertow



A horror / thriller that both follows the conventions, but refuses just as many. Solidly rooted in a deep story and complex characters, the plot wanders (with the characters) in directions we don't expect but (almost always, with the exception of two happy accidents) are happy to believe.
++++

Thursday, May 31, 2007

300


The nicest things that I could say about this engaging and watchable, albeit gaga-for-machismo, film is that it knows how to really MAKE ITS POINT. The opposite of subtle, the film uses stylized shot composition and editing underlined with a heavy-handed voice-over / narrative device to underline its point that Honor, Fraternity and Violence are neccessary precursors to Freedom and Reason (to me, the more obvious story is that people who really engage their freedom toward the ends of reason are pansies compared to those who just cite "reason" as a reason to keep transforming themselves into fabulously sexy killing machines....).

++

Monday, May 28, 2007

Deja Vu



The script for this time-bending thriller mixes sci-fi elements into a procedural drama genre in a way that is tautly constructed and fun to watch. While I appreciated the screenwriting, the overly spectacular opening visuals and an overall ethos of matrix-y, music-video'd sequences throughout made the movie feel too much like a vanity pic for the director and Denzel.

+++1/2

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Music & Lyrics



A pleasureable by-the-numbers Rom-Com, everything from the performances (classic Hugh Grant and classic Drew Barrymore) to the plot points, to the quirky and charming sets, to the pleasantly quirky secondary character and the downright strange and unbelievable peripheral characters -- everything (!) is conventional. The inventional elements of the film which save the film from being too dull to be bearable are the endless signifiers that self-conconciously and ironically refer to eighties kitsch culture and the endless attempts of we-who-came-of-age-then to recover a sense of value and validity.

+++

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Shrek the Third



Piecemealed, one-note jokes, strung together using a C-grade version of the original formula, in this third installment of what-used-to-be-the-best-parody-in-town-franchise, Shrek is a stereotypical suburban dad, Princess Fiona does *nothing* and I'd keep going, but you'd be as bored as you were when you watched the movie. We never care about any of the characters; we never care about the quest; we just keep waiting for the next cool soundtrack song and/or the credits -- either would be fine.

++1/2

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Au Revoir Les Enfants


Julien, a spoiled 12 year old son of a french industrialist, barely notices the war in his cloistered Catholic school, until the arrival of a jewish refugee in hiding both annoys him and arouses his curiousity; as the boys become friends, Julien begins to realize the horror of the Holocaust and in a small, but honest way, his own complicity at every turn. The structure and the pacing of the story, the smallness and truth of the mise en scene and the natural gentle direction of the film invite us to slowly, but inevitably take up with these characters and ultimately recognize our own complicity in the pervasiveness of suffering.

++++1/2

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Jesus Camp


I enjoyed watching this movie about how contemporary evangelicals conflate particular political ideologies with theological truth and ecclesiological practice and I believe that the claims that the filmmaker suggests (through interview, sermons, montage and counter-testimonial) truthfully reflect the reality of many evangelicals, but I found the construction of the film to be disappointing and contrived, which may, troublingly, allow some viewers to dismiss the other merits.

The selection-of and attention-to the main characters worked well: these characters (Becky Fisher, Levi & Rachael) were relateable, resonant and likeable; the mise en scene was nicely constructed, controlled and photographed -- except for the Washington D.C. & Colorado Springs tack-ons at the ending (which feels like a device imposed by the filmmaker) -- the camp and the church register as two coherent parts of the same world; the title and the narrative arc feel at odds with one another since ultimately the narrative threads that actually occur at Jesus Camp are not the spine nor the heart of this story; finally the subtly dissonant score and the counter-testimonials of Mike Papatonio seem like faithless additions the filmmaker makes in order to clarify her own opposition to Fisher's ideals and techniques

+++

2046




Chow, a has-been journalist, who writes erotic scifi as a way of supporting his drinking and womanizing lifestyle, leads us on a tour of his past loves, occasionally indulging in a future fantasy or a reference to love between others; ultimately, he decides, though we push through the future only hoping to recover the past, the past itself is so lost that it can never be reclaimed and even if we could find it, we may not want it anyway. The photography manages again to transform claustraphobic spaces into lush, expressive flashes of insight and the movement of the film is as entrancing as any hypnotist, but the melodrama and kitsch throughout makes the whole experience feel uneven and slightly untrue.


+++1/2

Friday, May 18, 2007

Little Children


Disappointed thirty-somethings have an affair in a desperate attempt to find something that is both real and their own; as they fixate on those particular pleasures, we begin to understand that the title refers to all of us -- we are all needing love and attention, making irrational playful choices, and hoping for more goodness. The cinematography, art direction, performances and direction all work together to make this a very artful, deliberate film; the script and the voiceover (arguably a subset of the script) render the film a little too plot-intensive and on-the-nose for its own good, but they do not detract from the significant goodness that the film offers us.

++++

Barcelona


The degree to which Stillman's fillmaking prowess matures between these two films is remarkable; Barcelona is a beautifully shot, beautifully art-directed, cinematic story and the thick history between the two main characters deepens the plot significantly. Delightfully, the film celebrates the mundane and the idiosyncratic bits that seam together the characters' lives; maddeningly (in a good way) the film defers all the ideological difficulties it raises; disappointingly, the "love conquers all" ending leaves a saccharine taste finally.

++++

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Metropolitan



This talky plot-lite comedy of manners earns forgiveness for its own hyper-referentiality to the class-conscious, manners-bound Jane Austen novels (where issues of good taste and its boundaries are only barely superceded by interests of love and authentic human connection) because it fits the genre so surprisingly and winningly. I'm always delighted and distressed by the way that Stillman forecloses (or does he just mitigate...?) the complexities of idealism meeting pragmatic barriers by opting for the pleasures of human connection.

++++

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Thin Red Line


It's rare that a war movie can truly be about peace, but the way that this film indulges its plainspoken voiceovers, blatant visual metaphors and insistence that people's violence is just another symptom of a deeply divided nature, wraps every burst of heroism and nobility in such thick personal longing and sadness, that the only happiness that remains is not in heroism or victory, but in harmony and beauty. The visual and audio tropes are so lush and indulgent that this film (unlike any other war movie I've seen) gives more than it takes away.

++++1/2

Monday, May 07, 2007

Babel



Though I agree that Babel doesn't really work as a network narrative, indulges its butterfly-in-tokyo-causes-a-storm-in-morocco cliche, and features at least one plotline that feels contrived and shallow (the deaf-adolescent-girl-has-so-much-grief-that-she-becomes-sexually-loose), I also found the movie to be completely engaging and found myself caring deeply for the characters -- most of all for the mexican nanny who only gives for others, but almost loses everything. The visual style is familiar for Innaritu: too close, too quick, too grainy, too saturated, but it fits the story well and it lays visual beauty over even the most tragic moments.

+++

Saturday, May 05, 2007

For Your Consideration


I have always enjoyed Christopher Guest's satirical send-ups of the tight little meaning enclaves in our societies whose meanings are so dense and idiosyncratic that the particularities of how each player engages in the meaning-making end up feeling more universal and accessible than the broadly-familiar-man/boy-comedy-romps which now seem to be our cultural consensus about "funny."

Unfortunately, I found this particular effort to be too broad in every regard; perhaps the target became too large to engender nuanced and worthwhile performances -- perhaps its the fact that this territory is far too well trodden (delightfully by The Player, modestly by State and Main, darkly by Swimming With The Sharks, peripherally and more recently by Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), but apart from a better-than-usual performance by Parker Posey, I only felt invited to laugh at -- never to laugh with.

++ 1/2